Thursday, December 20, 2012

What Do We Do With This...?

I really am unsure what to say about this movie review that I was introduced to via that ever valiant source of information-- Facebook. I read it and was in mental and physical pain. Go ahead-- take a browse below.

In short, all I can ask is...what in the world is happening to our readers? I assume levels of ignorance such as this have existed throughout the years, but it seems to me that the ability to flaunt it has only increased with time. Aging, I suppose, like the stinkiest of fancy cheeses that connoisseurs think everyone should like, but really, everyone just wonders why it is they keep eating cheese that smells like feet...



So, we have this stinky cheese here. You'd think whoever wrote this would do some research before opening up his mouth (or rather typing away). You see some similarities between a book you read and a movie you saw? Hmmm, well, wouldn't it be interesting for you to go to google and type in the author's name, and see who it is who actually came first.

The archetypes and similarities between Harry Potter, for instance, and Lord of the Rings, could be listed with interest. Every book has something in common with something else-- it's the way stories go. For example, in "The Two Towers", Faramir calls Sauron "he who we do not name". Sound familiar to Harry Potter's "he who must not be named"? Some people could call this ripping off, but wait until you find out if J.K. Rowling even read Tolkien's works before she wrote Harry Potter. If she did, well, she was influenced. Perhaps she made a tangible choice to use something along those lines. Authors do it-- and don't tell me, if you're a writer, that you haven't read something or seen something or heard something and thought, oooh, I have to use something like that! Then usually you promptly forget and it shows up in your work anyway by subconscious decision and you think you came up with it all on your own until you see the original later and think dang.

Of course, there is always the possibility, also, that Rowling never did read Tolkien (which would be a great shame) and the similarities are merely coincidences or based on the cultural and psychological building block of fantasy that has been growing and evolving in this country since fantasy and fairy tales were created, both here in their own ways and abroad in their origins. They're nothing new-- go back to the ancient myths and legends and you'll find they have nothing to do with Disney princesses. You'll find fierce and beautiful Tuatha de Dannan from Ireland and decide you probably don't want to run away with a cute little fairy who is possibly going to eat you in the next second. You'll find Djinn from India and Kaonashi from Japan. Changelings and dangerous parallel worlds galore.

If Rowling never did read Tolkien, it's entirely possible that she made all these links and connections with his work completely oblivious. I've done this myself-- I thought I made up a name, or altered a known name into a different one, only to find years later that it was the exact name of a character in an Anne Rice book. I'd never read that book before, so I was making the connection backwards. I had not been influenced by Anne Rice, and I certainly did not rip her off. But the same name was used.

This person seen up above...I can't really quite comprehend. Not only does the writer not know that Tolkien wrote the Hobbit first (something the writer criticizes Tolkien for not doing) before continuing on to Lord of the Rings, and in good, long time before Rowling even conceived of Harry Potter, but he clearly doesn't know that Tolkien has been dead for 40 years. Hm. That will sort of put a damper on him making an appearance on the DVD.

Besides, many authors write prequels after their main series. What is so wrong with that?

But truly, I'm mostly constraining myself around the line "Tolkien, that unoriginal, stupid idiot"...

Deep breaths...

In a world where information is merely a click away (I remember having to do everything via encyclopedia, guys) how could you not cross check your information before doing a fail-rant against one of the most beloved storytellers and world-weavers of this century? Twenty years went into the writings of Lord of the Rings, and it's endurance and life in this new century attests to its power.

I rather think the words 'stupid idiot' could be reassigned, here...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Who Says Hard Rock Isn't Art?

All you rock stars out there and all you fans of rock stars, now you can point to this and prove that you're more literary than people may think you to be!


So classic/hard rock and all who run around with it are nothing more than pot heads and boozers, right? Wrong, actually. Though this stereotype does come from some fact in the extremes (extremes always shout loudest, people, on both sides) there's this really wide swath of rockers who actually have some brains and literary savvy to them. Quite a lot of them, actually.

John Williams wrote an article addressing this topic, Book Titles With That Indie-Rocker Feel that points out quite a few of these inspirations, both forward and backwards and across the table.

Apparently The Cure inspired two novels by Andrew Porter and Allie Larkin, reflected in the book titles, and The Cure themselves were inspired by a children's book called "Charlotte Sometimes" by Penelope Farmer. R.E.M and the Smiths are also cited as having literary influences in the title-naming-world. These are, of course, just a few. Rush was inspired by Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" in many areas, and their lyrics reflect that. You can bet that a number of hard core Rush fans have read the novel.

Of course, some authors get it right when they title their books after a song, and the innards of the novel reflect that. Other's don't. I admit to being in the 'not listening so closely' camp in regards to R.E.M's song "Losing My Religion", which has inspired several religious books. I'm not a fan of the song only because the idea of losing one's religion is so sad to me. And yet that's not the goal at all (and hence those who have written solely religious novels off of the title have not been paying attention). Apparently

"singer Michael Stipe has explained the phrase as a southern idiom that means running out of patience."
 
Huh. Well, I think I owe that song another listen.

But really, who hasn't been inspired by one of their favorite songs, including rock and roll? I got this close  to writing a story inspired by The Cure's "Burn". It's still on my list to-write. The idea includes the old Celtic mythology about crows being the escorts of the dead between worlds, and how they fall in love with a living woman and steal her away. Her husband doesn't quite approve of this, and from there the story builds. In my mind, the lyrics of "Burn" are the malignant voices of the crows speaking to the husband.

Besides, though there be some mindless lyrics out there in the rock world, if you listen to 85% of songs, you'll see the literary aspects and poetry behind them. Blue Oyster Cult, Styx, Rush, Journey, Queen-- all incredibly poetic and literary bands. Even Black Sabbath has some beautiful and/or intriguing lines, as 'hard rock' as they are. Music is integrally linked to the written word, and I very rarely write creatively without something playing in my ear. Because what are lyrics and songs for? To tell some form or story, whether it be real, fiction, personal, impersonal, statement-based, or merely culture-based. Some will be better than others, of course, and some will resonate more with certain people than others.

But isn't it the same with books, themselves?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Mayans Were Right...but wrong...but Right...Again!


Well, maybe the end of the world isn't happening at the end of 2012...but then again, Twinkies were threatened, and that's (I hear) enough of a shock to make it seem worth the proclamations of doom. They're not my favorite snack, by far...in fact I find that delightful, over-dyed, greasy cake filled with questionable, poofy, marshmallow cream to be a bit of a turn off.

But did you know that if you deep fry it, it actually tastes...good? I promise...it was a bet. That got lost.

Now, however, there is something else that makes the oncoming year 2013 seem ominous. Apparently copyright law has a change that is 35 years in the making and is about to collect.

In an article by Jeff John Roberts, the concerns and possibilities of the new Copyright Act will allow authors to reclaim their work after 35 years. All those backlisted novels by authors famous by today's standards (Roberts listed a few including Stephen King, Judy Blume, and John LeCarre...definitely some names who could cash in now what they may not have been able to back then) could prove quite an unforseen monetary hazard for publishers already struggling. Here's how the law works:

"The law in question is Section 203 of the 1978 Copyright Act which allows authors to cut away any contract after 35 years. Congress put it in place to protect young artists who signed away future best sellers for a pittance . . . The 1978 law also means a threat to the back list of titles that are a cash cow for many publishers. The threat is amplified as a result of new digital distribution options for authors that were never conceived when the law was passed — these new options mean authors have more leverage to walk away from their publishers altogether."

Ahh here we are...the threat of eBooks and ePublishing yet again. As you can see, the friendly balance between the two has not yet arrived. Maybe it never will. They are, after all, in direct competition with each other, and until all the major publishing houses own all the major ePublishing houses (or vice versa) there will not be peace between the Montagues and the Capulets.


You can see how this might be a problem. If a present-day author who is stable both financially and in terms of popularity, they will have great leverage over their publisher should they want to take their old books elsewhere. Which means either the publishing houses will have to pay up, literally, or risk losing their money makers. Having Stephen King on your list is no joke, folks. So all the publishers are in a quiet tizzy, trying not to bring attention to this change approaching in the new year and hoping that it all goes over quietly.

Then again, there may be nothing to really worry about. It seems that most agents and authors don't really know about the law, and even if they do, their chance to do something about it is not very wide. Roberts goes on to say that


"authors have a five-year window to exercise the right but must also provide advance notice at least two years but no more than 10 years beforehand. For 1978 authors — who are eligible to reclaim in 2013 — the window is already closing."


They'll only have three years to make this work, and believe me, that's a short time even as it is simultaneously a long time in the publishing world. All the gears have to get going at the same time and in the same way before much can get done. So if the authors are going to do this, they need to go ahead and be prepared to do it when the first of the year hits us. And if none of them really know about it, how are they to do that?

Of course, at the same time, it may not be worth the legal trouble. Court cases are incredibly expensive, should the publishers take it that far, and some producers have already done so in the case of music copyright reclamation. Roberts discusses that further in his article, but I will refrain from getting into that here.

In my opinion, contrary to all concerns, this could prove to be a windfall in the publishers' benefit.

This could be the big chance to renew these old titles. Who among us wouldn't eat up anything by our favorite author? And if some of their first novels became 'rereleased' from the printing block? We'd eat it alive. Buy everything, buy anything! I do this already with J.R.R. Tolkien. I see a book by him that I've never read before (rare at this point, but it does happen to my great delight) or at least an edition that I've never seen before, and snatch. Mine. I just recently got my hands on an original 1960s edition of The Tolkien Reader that I'd never seen before. Immediately became part of my collection without question.

And the swarm of, for example already mentioned, Stephen King fans-- I'm sure they already have his backlisted books, even if they are out of print (there are ways, my friends) but who wouldn't want a brand spanking new crisp and beautiful edition to put next to their old one? I do this...I'm still looking for the 1960s Lord of the Rings, personally...I've mentioned this before, but if you're new to my blog, I love books printed in the 60s. They smell the best.

As usual, I take a more laid-back opinion on the whole matter. I don't think it's as much of a crisis as the publishers fear it could be, but then again, I could be wrong. I certainly hope I'm not! Any more turmoil in the industry and no new books will ever be published. Everyone will just throw up their hands in defeat. This is, of course, a hyperbolic statement. But I bet you knew that. You're a clever bunch.

Stay away from those Twinkies...

Monday, November 26, 2012

Exams...

It's that most...wondeeerrrfull tiiiiiiiiime...of the yeeeeeeeeeeaaaaar...

Ah. The fresh smell of exams...

I always wonder, as this time of year rolls around, if anyone is ever going to figure out the best way to make time to write. You know the last time I worked on my book was?

Neither do I. I was planning, originally, to have it done by Christmas. I knew at the time that was an unrealistic plan, based on writing 20 pages a day without fail from the beginning of the fall. But it was an estimate that I was aiming for.

I am proud to say that I have accomplished almost a fourth of that goal-- that's 80 ish pages. With the time I've had to write, that seems like a lot to me. But I don't plan on spending two years writing this thing. I want to have it done so that I can edit it, prep it, and send it off to the publishers, agents, et al.

But sometimes you've just got to be patient. And endure. This final holiday break of mine is hardly going to be a holiday, what with applying for and researching jobs. My goal is to be employed before I walk across that final stage telling me my collegiate and academic career is over. I want to be able to step off that stage into the new era of my life, rather than still struggle in the tweeners. I'm going to work as hard as I can to make that a reality.

Of course, it all depends on if anyone will take me. But I've worked hard all four years here at this grand place they call higher education to make that as possible as it can be. At this point, there is nothing more that I can do other than apply and pray and be myself. Someone will recognize the fact that I can do it and will make that offer.

Everything is a stepping stone. Every job is a stepping stone. Maybe I'll stay at this first job my whole life-- though that is doubtful the way the job market works these days. People move up, around, or away. New openings pop up all the time, within or without the company. It's possible I'll stay. It's also possible that I'll not. But the option is always there to do and be and change.

I'm just so excited to step into that first job! People tell me to 'enjoy it now' because life is just a 'downhill from here'. I always stare at them incredulously. How could anyone say that? Life is amazing, and I can't wait to see the rest of it! I'm so excited to work-- I want to work!! I'm really excited to move into my first cheap, crappy apartment (though who knows, I may find a real deal). I'm excited to pay my first bill with my salary, not the parcel of groceries I could maybe get off the paycheck I recieve for my part-time job. And when I say parcel I mean it-- one. One bag.

Who wouldn't be excited? Yes, it's startling, possibly frightening. It's change, and I'm not overly fond of change. But this is a change I'm really looking forward to. I'll work my butt off to do what I need to do to get where I need to be.

And, of course, first and foremost, God provides...

Good luck everyone on your exams-- you can do it! Just one breath, one step at a time, and you'll get through. This too shall pass. Everyone else, good wishes to the end of your year, safe travels, yummy baking, and all else that goes with. It'll be 2013 before we know it...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankful for Books

Happy Day after Thanksgiving!

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday (those of you who, of course, celebrate said holiday) stuffing yourselves full of wonderful foods and hanging out with friends and family and loved ones. Perhaps you had a solitary Thanksgiving-- I hope you enjoyed the time relaxing, getting some quiet time. In any case, I hope the day was full for you; I certainly am thankful for all that God has given me.

Including this bizarre breakfast that I'm eating right now. Waffles and leftovers, including stuffing and corn pudding. No, it doesn't go together, but it's delicious, along with my huge mug of Earl Grey next to me.

And I'm thankful for books. Oh, how I'm thankful for books. Yesterday, after everyone had stuffed themselves silly (we did a Thanksgiving luncheon this time) we all lay/sat/stood around, talking, dozing, thinking. In my case, reading. I switched on and off between sleeping off the heavy meal and reading away, finally using this chance to catch up on my reading for-me rather than always, always for study. I've been in the middle of reading the Anne Rice book "The Mummy".

No, not the movie "The Mummy". This has no giant anubis armies or scarabs eating people. It's more delicious than that.

I always was an Anne Rice skeptic until my boyfriend started leaving the books around for me to find. I've  never been one for vampires, usually, as so many people portray them in what I find to be a disgusting or cliche manner. I'm not a fan of the vampire Lost Boys and I don't like Twilight. But I have enjoyed, thoroughly, other forms of Vampire tales-- like Moon Child, a movie by Hideto Takarai, or "Wildwood Dancing" by Juliet Marillier. The vampires in "Wildwood Dancing" are subtle. Moon Child is a gangster shoot-em-up-vampire story of epic proportions. No glittering romance here.

In any case, the introduction to the vampire novels by Anne Rice led, finally, to some of her other books; in this case, "The Mummy".

"The Mummy" is incredibly self-contained. As I said, no huge wars, no epic battles. It's a handful of characters trying to figure out what is happening to them and to their understanding of the world around them. When an immortal man, disguised as a mummy, awakens to walk the earth, the few humans privy to his secret must adjust their understanding of life and death, the past and the future...and make decisions that will affect their lives forever.

Sound good? Eh? Eh?

If you're a reader, no matter how busy life gets, you need, need, to make time for books. When I don't read, I get anxious, low, dull. My imagination doesn't get stretched like it needs to. I eat, breathe stories, new books and words. I soak them up like sunlight. And if I don't get them, I feel it physically in my bones, in my heart. Of course, like the image below, I could never turn all my books edible. I reread far too much to do that! And I'm greedy...I like to keep them around and enjoy my library. It hurts me that at the moment my library is boxed up in the attic...soon, in less than 6 months if everything works out, they'll be free...!

 
I was entranced by "The Mummy". I couldn't put it down. Many times I had to, simply because I had so much classwork or other work to do. But this Thanksgiving, I was thankful for books and the time to read them, and I polished that sucker off. It had an entirely satifsying ending, open-ended in some ways, and was exciting and intriguing all the way through.

But I can't tell you what happens, or I'd give it away!

Monday, November 19, 2012

One Week Hiatus...

Well. I consider myself exceptionally lax, but Officer, I can explain everything...!

You may have noticed that there were no new blog posts last week. For that, I apologize-- a series of events ensured that my designated times for blog writing were completely and utterly devoured. All you blog writers out there, know this-- it is important to keep up deadlines, even if they are personal deadlines. But sometimes, if keeping a deadline will ensure that you will be dead, reconsider. I'm sure you can come to some kind of arrangement.

I've recently, however, been exploring the different effects of social media on my blog. I created a Facebook page where I can be a bit more informal, link amusing pictures and stories, put videos and other articles between official blog posts, etc. After you get a certain amount of likes, I can see how many people I've reached in a week, how many people are talking about my page, etc. At the highest peak I had reached over 500 people in the space of a week and nearly 40 people were talking about my page. Now that's not bad by my count.

I've been expanding who I follow on Twitter (because apparently the way to get followers is to follow...and it's eerily been working. I follow 10 people, I get 6 new followers myself. Odd.) because I also post a link to every new blog post on Twitter in the hopes of establishing further readership that way. I now have 11 followers (don't laugh) as opposed to the 5 from before. I'm still working on that.


But the real truth, to me, of how well this surge of social media experimentation has worked is this: after a week of nothing new, no new blog, no new blurb, not even an apology for not posting-- my page views per day are still double and triple what they used to be on average between posting days. The views would spike when I had a new post out, but they'd trickle to a handful on the off days. Not so any longer. Last month alone I had almost 500 views to my blog. That may not be a lot in terms of professional blogging standards, but folks-- that's a huge leap from what I'm used to.

I suppose the moral of this story is: social media works. You have to keep up with you and work with it, but it gets you out there in ways word of mouth and frantic pleas for help and just plain begging won't. Many authors can thank their success to the workings of social media-- by serializing their work in an attempt to get it published, by pushing their own personal marketing scheme, by sheer good use of informational networking. If you have a project, an organization, a fill-in-the-blank-here, chances are a facebook page will help you. It keeps you organized, it keeps you up to date, and it keeps you in the loop. Also consider, everything you post gets seen by your friends. If they like it, if they comment on it, if they do anything to it, it then gets seen by their friends friends (depending of course on their security settings). Still-- I can tell you, I don't have over 500 friends. And I reached over 500 people in a week.

Something to think about.

In other news, the new Hobbit movie comes out in less than a month! Have you watched the video production blogs? Have you made plans to be available for the midnight showing on the 14th? Are you already suffering over all the new merchandise you can't wait to purchase (and know you'll have to wait to purchase for lack of spare change)? I know I am!!


Maybe I'm a bit...too excited?

Nah!

Friday, November 9, 2012

EBooks are the Book's Hero

I've written in depth on this topic before in a rather long academic discourse and came to the same conclusion, but I found an article that was even better.

You see? Better than me. It does, indeed, happen.

*cough*

In the past three or four years, eBooks have been the grim reaper of the publishing and printing industry, at least to publishers and printers. Innovative champions of the future embraced the slim eRearders an their digital contents, while more traditionally minded bookworms blinked in owlish surprise, wondering where all the pages went and that fantastic smell that old (or brand new) binding and pages smell.


Isn't it funny? Old, old books, old enough that their thin, crackly pages are yellow, and new, crisp new books smell so good. Diametrically opposite, and yet they both have a quality to them that is simply irresistible. I think it's not only the paper, it's the binding cloth, or the glue. There's particularly something about books published in the 60s...

And yes, eBooks have gone on the rise. Amazon is selling 114 eBooks for every 100 physical books it sells, and that's just a singular indication of the eBook world. I guarantee, if you haven't purchased or downloaded an eBook for yourself for scholarly purposes, you know someone who has, and you know people who have an eReader of some kind. My parents, for example, have a Kindle Fire or whatever it's called, as does my older sister.

Oh...oh dear! It's spreading!!

But eBooks and eReaders are not the end of the literary world as we know it. If nothing else, it's encouraging growth. EBooks are the fertilizer of the book garden. Because as more people are able to access a greater array of books at their digital fingertips, they're also being introduced to a wide spread of new books that they'll want on their shelf, that can't be purchased as an eBook, or that they never would have had the opportunity to read before without an eReader and now it's on their radar. It's free advertising and it's working.

Andrew Losowsky has great insight on this topic in his article Why Ebooks Are Inspiring A New Age of Print.  Because despite the convenience and innovation of eBooks, they just aren't as solid and substantial as our favorite books. The books with the creases down the spine because we've read them so much, the ones with the slightly rippled pages where you gripped the paper so tightly it dented, the one with the signature on the inside when you, miraculously, got to meet the writer. The one that smells like childhood, like springtime, like winter, like a storm, like love.

Poetic, I know, but admit it-- it's true.

Losowsky describes this phenomenon as being caused by the pure physicality of books: "Enduring physical presence is no small thing in an age when information appears on a screen, then changes, evolves, and maybe even disappears. And as efficient as ebook retailers are, clicking to purchase is a fairly soulless affair in comparison to the pleasures of browsing in a bookstore."


Oh. How true. I once got a shopping spree at Books A Million for a birthday present. I could barely carry all the books out and they made a stack nearly as tall as my dresser next to my bed. It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. A must repeat, one of these years...

Losowsky goes so far as to even claim that "ebooks have actually encouraged a new level of fetishization of the printed page." Well. When you put it that way...but really, think about it. You smelled the book's pages before, but did you ever really talk to anyone about it? Now, when you're having a heated debate about the pros or cons of printed versus digital, the feel, the smell-- they become passionate experiences in your arsenal of why you want your physical book. All these sensory components have elevated the physical book, and eBooks were the springboard.

"This might be a generational anomaly, created by those with nostalgia for print and libraries, soon to disappear once the digital natives are in charge. Or this might be the moment where print, freed from its need to do everything, becomes even better at doing what it can do uniquely."

Oh yes-- I think, and indeed hope, that this is the case. Literature is an art form, though you wouldn't know it sometimes by looking at the terrible romance novels (natural or supernatural...) for a penny in the airport waiting lounge. But it is. The words of London, Tolkien, Lewis, of Rilke and Yates...pure art distilled in vocabulary and sentences. Let's get back to it.

I'm going to go smell my favorite book now.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ok,  now this is just cool...

Recently I had the pleasure of interacting with an incredibly bright young man. Bright as in used to make a good $700 or so a month (don't quote me on the actual numbers) off of his i-phone apps alone. In addition to anything else he had going on, like stocks. And he's a sophomore in college.

 
How does he do it?! I don't know. I just fall asleep on a tear-soaked pillow thinking of my own accomplishments, in comparison.
 
He just introduced me to a really nifty website call Help a Reporter Out. What is this, you ask? Well, let me tell you:
"From The New York Times, to ABC News, to HuffingtonPost.com and everyone in between, nearly 30,000 members of the media have quoted HARO sources in their stories. Everyone’s an expert at something. Sharing your expertise may land you that big media opportunity you’ve been looking for."
Especially in the cases of those aspiring writers trying to enter the journalism world, you've probably run across the line "clips required" attached to some application or other. Clips being, as you know, cuttings or photocopies or links of published articles or snippets that you've written. Until this year, actually, I had no clips to my name (except for one APC blog post, and I'm not entirely sure that counts...), and so I've left the strict journalism world alone for the most part, other than in terms of administrative work. Now I have a good five or so articles that I could pass in, if I wanted to. But what do you do if you have none? How do you get them?


Well, you can submit freelance to magazines and newspapers all around your local area. But you can also use HARO. Basically, reporters and news sources come looking for stories, for quotes, for information about this or that topic and fact. Something they can use other than wikipedia, that's more professional and also more personal. That something is-- you.

So, according to their sign up page, here's how it works:

HOW IT WORKS:
  1. Sign Up --> (easy enough, yeah?)
  2. Read your HAROs every day! --> (that means read the queries from reporters asking for help)
  3. Respond to reporters looking for your expertise, immediately. --> (give your advice and quotes!)
Simple! To me, it sounds a lot like an interactive twitter that gives you journalism and social media experience in legitimate sources and literary locations.

In fact, look at one of these success stories. Lisa De Fazio built up her professional portfolio using HARO, and then that professional portfolio turned around and gained her television publicity. Lots of it!
"HARO gets Lisa De Fazio National TV Appearances
Every week, I respond to seven or eight queries and get one media placement on average. Every time I get an appearance, I can put that outlet’s logo on my site. It builds my credibility as a media dietician.
The “Daily Buzz” – the national morning TV show – put out a HARO query asking for articles for their new Body Checklist website. They needed a nutritionist so I responded like I always do. When the producer looked at my website and saw all of my media coverage and TV appearances, she asked me to write a series of 15 weekly articles, with my picture and bio added to the site as a regular expert."
Read the rest of the success story on the website. If this sounds right up your alley, well, go for it! Build your credibility as a source of information, get clips and logos to your name, plaster it all over your resume. If you have a business or product, put that on there too.

You might just get flown across the country to be on tv. Or you might get some clips that you can put on your application to get you a job. But you'll build your credibility and portfolio either way.  And, if absolutley nothing else, you'll help a reporter out.

See what I did there?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Never give up...Never surrender!

So a few days ago my father sent me this article along with this quote. I already posted this article to my official facebook page (feel free to Like it and get updates with my bi-weekly posts [yes, I gave in and went back to my old schedule...habits die hard] as well as comments about the publishing world, videos, pictures, and possible inspirational threads with interactive communication) but I thought it merited some commentary in a full-on blog post.

  "This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."  -- Winston Churchill, HarrowSchool, 29 October 1941.
 
That is exactly what all of us need to hear on occasion. The publishing industry is shaky, writing is hard, the market is flooded with mediocre to just plain bad literature, and as such it feels like our work (which we hopefully consider to be at least competent part of the time) will never get published, never be put before an adoring audience, never amount to anything.

Well. Realism is good for keeping inflated egos and dreams from getting out of control. But it can tend towards the creation of cynics rather than rational thinkers. Hope and dreams must be held in equal measure with realism. Perhaps we never will get published. But if we give up and don't try, that will be a definite fact rather than a possibility.

Lucy Alibar didn't give up, and she was in far more desperate straits than many of us writers find ourselves in. She was the classic New York hopeful, living on a shoe string (and in fact this shoe string had recently broken so it was tied together by the frayed edges, and it was also a bit muddy after running through the streets in the rain) working two and three jobs at a time, trying desperately to break it big, maybe just break it at all. To get somewhere with her dream of writing that one, brilliant piece of work.

Well guess what. She did.

 Lucy Alibar is a dream example of how hard work and dedication can pay off. As this article featured in Elle magazine states, Alibar was making large sacrifices just to do what she loves to do: "In ­order to ­support her writing, ­Alibar had been leaving her ­Lower East Side apartment at 5 A.M. for a job making sandwiches and ­salads (“I can’t ­remember the ­exact number, but it was a lot”), then return­ing to her apartment to write, then bartending, then home again to write, then waitressing."


And finally, after her cell phone had been disconected due to lack of payment, her co-written screenplay went big. Big as in won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, won the Caméra d’Or prize for best first feature, won great reviews, and was endorsed by Oprah Winfrey (after being recommended to her by President Obama, apparently). Jeez.

Beasts of the Southern Wild was Alibar's first screenplay. But it made an incredible impression, and now she describes her life like "heaven. I don’t want to go on vacation. I don’t want to buy  clothes. I don’t want to do anything. I just want to write."

I remember that feeling. Of wanting nothing  more than to write and write and write, for hours on end, never surfacing unless food or sleep required it, and sometimes not even then. For many of us, life happens, and we lose that passion or we lose the ability to indulge it. But are we waking up at 5 am to make it happen? Are we working three crappy jobs, all the while working like no one else?

There's a saying, and it's original intention revolves around the idea of saving for retirement: Live like no one else so you can live like no one else. I think it has merit regarding the writing world as well. Right now Alibar is living like very few people-- she's doing the thing she adores to do, she's doing it well, and she's excelling at it, and living off of it. She lived like very few people in order to get there. So what are we complaining about, that the industry is bad and that it's hard. Yes, it's hard. So get out there are work!

I speak to myself just as much as anyone else. I could wake up way earlier to work on my book. I could work on my book every single day instead of just once a week, as it's come down to. I could make the time. I don't. I'd rather sleep that extra hour. But should I? Could I?

Something to think on. Perhaps I'll go fiddle with my alarm clock...

Monday, October 29, 2012

Tea or Coffee-- The Writer's Dilemma

I just wandered into the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. In putting away the dishes I forgot the tea, started talking to my roommate, and then found myself sitting back at my desk to write this blog post. Sans tea.

I'm getting old. Senior moments already!

With the cold weather approaching, I thought it'd be appropriate to address a topic of much argument and tears and bloodshed over the decades. Tea....or coffee?

I used to be a strict tea drinker. Coffee, ugh. Nasty, awful stuff. Then college hit, and I began to drink tea obsessively (you should see my cabinet. It's a bit, er, full. I think I have a good 20+ flavors in there, in various forms of bagged and loose leaf, with various grades of roll and density and cure). But, despite my strict loyalty to tea, I also started to drink the occasional coffee. I'm sorry, tea! Forgive me!!

I've gotten a bit of a taste for the stuff, but I still like to have a little coffee with my cream and sugar. It has to be practically white, and really sweet for me to be able to truly enjoy it. I also like cream and sugar in my tea, old English way. There are definitely a vaster variety of teas that I like, as well, which provides a better playing field for taste.
 
 
Some of  my favorite teas include chai flavors, oolong, flavored greens, flavored rooibus, mate, and various blacks, including your standard earl grey to such strange tastes as wine flavored tea. It's my spring tea, but I drink it year round.
 
 
So beyond flavor, what are the health benefits of tea? Well, they're pretty extensive, especially green tea, oolong tea, and rooibus tea (which is naturally caffeine free). All tea has less caffeine than coffee, so if you're trying to kick that caffeine addiction, switching to tea just might be your thing.
 
Tea has amino acids, vitamins, polysaccharides, anti-carcinogens or anti-tumoric properties, an immune system boosters. It's good for your intestines and your skin, it's good for your teeth, normalizes blood pressure, prevents against heart disease and diabetes, prevents against various bacterias, and just plain tastes good. What kind of flavors would I recommend in your vitamin-in-a-cup?
 
Earl Grey is a good one, especially if you find a mix that has bergamot in it or vanilla. Chai tea, for the cold, is very spicy if you make it strong (as I always do). Any of the 'berries' are good in a tea-- strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry. Raspberry oolongs are fantastic. Chamomile is a soother. The first time I drank chamomile I fell asleep in an easy chair and almost dropped my empty mug. It's very good with honey. All teas come 'unflavored' but you can get flavored versions of anything and everything. Where to start, really? Well, shameless plug, you can go to eZenTea.com and check out their online shop. Or you can visit them in person in Chamblee, GA if you live in the Atlanta area. Their Earl Grey de la Creme, Iced Berry Wine, and Ceylon Raspberry black teas are to die for (and available on the website, go figure). Their Magnolia Oolong is delightful if you want something slightly sweet but greener. They also have several chocolate flavored teas. And they have over 160 flavors of tea in the shop, including food and desserts and meditation.
 
But what about coffee? Coffee has a more negative association with the great amounts of caffeine it possesses-- caffeine addiction can be very unpleasant when you go through withdrawal. I've seen it first hand, but luckily have never suffered it, having never been a regular coffee drinker. I'll stick to my tea. But in moderate amounts (you can drink all the tea you want, just so you know, but you should also keep hydrated while doing so, because both tea and coffee are diuretics, meaning they dehydrate you) coffee has been studied with results suggesting positive affects, such as reducing the risk of Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, heart disease, diabetes, gout, etc. Coffee also has anti-oxidents, just like tea. But the pros are far less numerous than those associated with tea.
 
I would say that it's a fair contest, but, along with my bias, I think I'll stay with tea, thank you very much.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Question of Rights

Oh, the politics of publishing...

So there's a great fear when working on publishing your book surrounding the question of contract...will you get jipped, or taken advantage of? Will you entrust your brain child to a publisher who really has no idea what they're doing, and if you had just known 'the signs' you could have avoided it!!

The truth is, you're not going to be an expert on everything. Now you could do a ton of research and read all the books, blog posts, articles, and referendums in order to get as much knowledge on the subject as you can. Or you could hire a lawyer to read through the kinks and loopholes with you. Either one is the extreme side of reaction to that publisher saying yes. Perhaps you don't need a lawyer, but you should at least have a clue about what it is you're getting in to.

For example, the question of money. If a publishing company or an agent ever asks you for money to read your work, run in the opposite direction! I believe I've mentioned this before on occasion. Unless they're an editor whose services you are hiring, you should not pay dime one for eyes to look at your book. Publishers like this are called 'subsidy publishers'. You pay them to 'publish' your book. What this should actually be called is 'self-publishing-with-help'. Most self-publishers you pay a fee, they print the book and market it for you. Subsidy publishers, guess what. They do the exact same thing. You should never have to pay someone for the privilege of publishing your book. It's the other way around. You don't pay to give up your art-- they pay you.

So contracting comes around to set down the rules and regulations concerning your book. Kristine Kathryn Rusch writes an incredibly in-depth and informative article, "Rights Reversion", in which she outlines information about contracting and rights. One of the most important initial facts she divulges is this:

"Here’s the truth of it, folks. You—one writer—can have twelve book contracts with the same company, and each contract might have different terms from other contracts. In other words, you might have spent your entire publishing career with one publishing house. You might write the same type of book year after year, and you still might have twelve different contracts, with twelve different terms, including twelve different reversion clauses."
 Rusch makes it clear from the start that you have to decide for yourself what's best for you, because no singular example is going to be 'the way' to go. Sound familiar? Boy, when does anything get solidified in the writing world.

Are those crickets I hear?

Rusch does, however, manage to list off some generalities about contracting and reversion clauses that are helpful. Now I guess it's important to generate a definition for a reversion clause. A reversion clause essentially dictates when the rights of a book return to the author (as opposed to the publisher). Once the book ends its contract with said publishers, it goes 'out of print'. From there the author can negotiate to have the book reissued or the rights returned, in which case the author can do as or how they like with their materials.

A good thing to keep in mind about the publishing business is this: it's a business. A publishing company is trying to make money, not distribute heart-warming or inspiring novels to eyes and hearts (though they may indeed be doing that, that is not their primary goal. Their primary goal is to eat and keep the business running, whatever they may say to the media. One thing journalism has taught me is that no one ever sounds as good as when they are quoted. Then whatever speculative, introspective, philosophical joy they can relate can be edited and smoothed to sound really, really nice.)

As Rusch puts it, "if contract terms can be bent or stretched to the publishing house's favor, the publishing house will do so."

Check out the article-- I definitely learned something about contracting from it. And it could be you'll need that knowledge sooner than you think. Today could be the day, after all...
 

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Plot Device

So most writers have at some point stumbled across Campbell and 'archetypes' and the ever popular story plots. There is nothing new under the sun. Everything has been written before, just in a different way. Yes, there is truth to this. But here's the question-- do you embrace it, or do you reject it?

One could argue that if you follow the pie chart, you'll get the desired results. Kind of like a production line. Consumers like blue cars. Therefore you buy blue paint, spray it on said car, and sell it. Your customers are happy. But how far should we go in terms of art? How much does this inhance or cheapen the forms of artistic expression?


For example, recently Target in association with the Warhol Foundation has come out with themed Campbells soup cans. You can get them in vivid colors of bright yellow and california blue, or magenta and orange. All in commemoration of the famed screen printer and modern artist Andy Warhol.

Now don't get me on my soap box about Warhol to begin with. I could say a few words, at least. Back to the point. Commercialization. Does it help or harm? You look at commercialized and churned out art-- posters, prints, magnets, mugs-- and compare it to seeing the real thing in the museum. Art for the masses. In the same way those cheap romance novels in the airport or the back of the book store...does this help or harm authors trying to get their books published? Does it drain water from the pool and bring us all to a Harrison Bergeron level of equality?

In the end, it doesn't get that forceful. We can write whatever we want. But unfortunately we are at the mercy of our audience. We are trying to sell our work, to make a living. If we just wanted to write for ourselves we could do it. In fact we do do it. But that won't put food in our mouths.

Knowing the story tropes that exist, is it wise to follow them and give our audience something to chase after and recognize or do we simply write. Don't worry about the hero, the adventurer, the call to purpose or the resolution. Write, and the story will figure itself out. These 'tropes' existed before they were labeled, and they'll sort themselves out.

Maybe it'd be a really interesting idea to try and write a story that purposefully has not a single trope to it. Then again, maybe that'd be the most boring story known to man. And then consequently it'd be hailed as the next best thing to Freud.


Challenge. Outline the tropes found in your book. It could be amazing, or amusing. And then try and write that short story that has not a single trope to it. Chances are, you'll fail, or you'll succeed and someone will find tropes in your story via their own interpretation. Isn't that funny how everything can take on so much meaning depending on the set of eyes looking at it.

Whether science fiction or fantasy or horror or nonfiction or self help books, the archetypes and tropes of literary and artistical concepts will find us.

They're watching...they're always...watching...


Friday, October 12, 2012

Next time! on Maudlin's Shoes

I have come upon a conundrum.

When writing a blog, writers come to the point where they have to decide how often they are going to write. And it's not as easy of an answer as it may seem.

For one, how much time can you put in? You want each post to be good, meaningful, and interesting. Probably some of you reading this who aren't bloggers are checking off each of those chategories and wondering why I'm writing this in the first place. But it does bear some thinking on. You want your posts to come out regularly so that a potential readership isn't constantly waiting around for a new post, only to be surprised and miss one when it does come out, or simply forget about you as too much trouble to keep up with.

At the same time you don't want to overload your readers with so many posts that they just don't keep up out of surrender. They only have so much time to dedicate to your writing, too. And you don't want your blog to consume everything else you do, unless you're earning enough from it to make a living and enjoy it that much.

If that's the case, well, good for you. Keep on doing that. Maybe let me know what it is you've got hidden up your sleeve.

As for me, I've been doing bi-weekly posts until now. I have recently decided to shorten it to once a week. Why? Well, my 'writing-days' which are thrice-weekly have been consumed on those two blog-days by the blog, leaving me only one day a week to work on my book. And I write so slowly that that really isn't enough time to get things done. My writing has been a crawl through the semester so that I don't think I've added more than thirty pages since August.

So I'm slowing my blog posts to once a week. That still maintains the regularity that any readers (and frankly I) need, while giving me that extra day to work on my own writing. Frankly, seeing as how that is what I want to spend my life doing, I think it's a better priority.

But I don't regret my bi-weekly posts. Sometimes in order to get into the habit of a thing you have to do it more frequently than you would if it were already a habit. I will have no trouble at all writing once a week after being used to writing twice a week, whereas before I started that strict regimen I was lucky if I wrote once every three months. The desired affect was required.

Fridays will be my new-release day. Keep your eyes open for the latest post. Halloween is just around the corner, and you know you want to hear me talk about vampires and pumpkins and how it must, must, have something to do with the publishing industry. Oh dear. Now that I've raised that challenge, it must be met. Hmmm. This will be thought upon.

Next time! on Maudlin's Shoes, and all that.

In fact, that's a good title.

Friday, October 5, 2012

To Travel...

Well, I'm off to Seattle, Washington in just a few hours. Going to walk the mile to Marta, take the train to the airport, and (hopefully...standby, donchaknow) get on a plane to the other side of the country.

I really can't wait to smell the air. You can tell the difference the moment you step off the plane. Here it's all pine and oak trees, but there...there it's all fir trees and the heartier evergreens that people draw inspiration on when making room and car fragrances. Not to say that the west coast smells like a new car. It's nothing at all like that. It's clear and fresh and green smelling, and the pacific ocean also smells nothing like our hot-blooded Atlantic. You can smell the cold coming off of it and imagine coasts in Alaska, Candada, and the Arctic where this same seawater has washed before.

The beaches, too, are different. No white sand glimmering beneath bikini bodies-- it's stones. Round, slippery stones in colors like charcoal and burnt umber and sienna and blood crimson. There's big warty seaweed that could be the shed skin of a troll or a goblin, if trolls or goblins ever had the inclination to shed their skin. And it's almost impossible to go to the beach and not see the teeny little crabs that live there in abundance, scuttling around, or get nearly knocked in the head by the pelicans and gulls that swarm around.

I'll enjoy watching the huge white ferries plough by through the water, in daylight and at night, from the nearness of the beach and from the huge, towering peak of the hill on which my great grandmother's house rests. She has a large bay window that overlooks hill, sound, and mountain range altogether. It's one of the most beautiful views I've ever seen in my life.

And I'm sure nothing has changed in the 7 years it's been since I was there...the little silver spoon collection will still be hanging on the wall, the card table will still serve as gaming platform and dining table, because the huge actual dining room is too cumbersome to bother with. I'm sure the kitchen will still smell like gramma-bread and good food, because after years of use you can't really get that smell out of the wood, the seams. The fire hydrant I used to perch on outside will still stand tall. Maybe I'll sit on it again for old time's sake. The rock garden with its chinese/japanese themed plants, the old water heater downstairs that used to scare me, the little cove of trees out back in the yard that always seemed so huge but is actually rather quaint, the hippo toy that I used to be small enough to use as a riding steed, the coal shute that is now a laundry shute to the basement where I used to sleep when visiting...all will still be there, my great grandmother presiding over all.

It'll be good to be back...if only for a short while...

Monday, October 1, 2012

To Edit, or Not to Edit...That is the Question!

So here's something of a conundrum that one can come across when getting ready to publish/submit your manuscript for the first time. You've just slashed off the final page, you're feeling good and dandy, you've got the query letter written and your pile of potential agents and publishers all mapped out...

Uh oh...no one else has looked at this beauty yet. It hasn't been edited.


Ah. Ok, so first things first. Do you need editing?

The answer is always and unquestionably a resounding YES. No matter how carefully you read over your work, you are always going to miss something. Perhaps you descriped the "beauty of love as lovely" or wrote "hte" instead of "the" or "an" instead of "and" (especially if you're using Microsoft Word, whose grammar and spell check functions are about as useful as a rock). You are going to have mistakes in there, from the very basic of typing errors to larger grammatical errors you didn't even realize were there to simply awkward diction and sentence structure that you wouldn't notice with your eyes, because you wrote it.

There are several tricks to editing on your own that can get you very far. For one, do a first read-through. Then do another read through, this time reading aloud. When you read aloud you force your brain to work differently, and you also force your ear to hear what the words are going to sound like to someone else. You can also get a keener tuning on the flow and rhythm of what you wrote and discover awkwardly metered sentences.

Another trick that I've heard of and have only partially tried once before is to change the font, size, and color of your manuscript and read it that way. This also tricks the brain (by tricking your eyes) into thinking it's reading something for the first time, and will allow you to catch more errors that your eyes merely slipped past the first or second or third time.

But even then-- even then-- you need someone else to read your work. I can tell you from personal experience: my own manuscript has been through the editing ringer. Not only did I essentially rewrite it at least a dozen times, but I edited it just as much for a period of time longer than a decade. And even then, after that I had my twin sister edit it for me, rigorously. That red ink came flying. And you wouldn't believe the mistakes, awkward diction, name errors, and plot points she picked out. Imagine if I had sent that off to an agent? Oh wait...I have.

So that answers that question. You need to edit. Another pair of eyes have to look at your manuscript.

"One should not aim at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand" ~Quintilian
 But here's the follow up query-- whose eyes?

Now, I would highly suggest you don't get your entire family and your friends all to read your book/short story and give you their opinions. For one, it will drive you nuts and you'll never get anything done. The whole everyone's a writer mentality here will bite you right in the butt. You can't please everyone-- there will be people out there who won't like your book, perhaps will even despise it, and people who will adore it as the best thing in the world (just look at Twilight, for instance. Or maybe don't. Don't look at Twilight.) You can share your writing just for fun with as many people as you want. But limit your editors. Limit the amount of opinion you have to deal with.

You also want to get someone who has an eye for the thing. Not just someone who is a good writer, but someone with an eye for the industry. I'm luck in that my twin sister has the same goals as I have and the same industry experience (such as it is) that I have. We've both interned at a publishing company and have worked at editing/approving manuscripts. So I've got it made as far as editing is concerned.

But if you don't have someone like this (and even if you do...weigh the costs and the gains before you decide) you can consider looking for a professional editor.

If you're on a budget but want someone to give you a professional job, I have just the person for you. Over the summer I had the pleasure of interning at the publishing house I have mentioned before with one Ms. Flannery Winchester, who (guess what) just so happens to have a professional editing service. She calls herself The Word Weeder and provides several services, including:
  • Copyedit
  • Developmental Edit
  • Sample Edits
  • Quality Follow-ups
She will also give you a cost estimate and a time estimate up front.


Now remember this distinction. Never, ever, ever, NEVER pay anyone to read your manuscript. If an agent or a publisher requires a reading cost, run far in the other direction. Run as fast as your little pages can carry you. Editors however will and can charge for their services, because they are offering you more than a pair of eyes to glimpse the words on the page. They can check your grammar, spelling, punctuation, and mechanical content.

In Ms. Winchester's case, if you go with her Developmental Edit, she can reorganize paragraphs and chapters to maintain a logical flow, ensure sentence and dialogue clarity, maintain consistent tone throughout the manuscript, and offer suggestions on strengthening character development or aspects of the plot, all while preserving your original voice and tone.

She offers to do all of this for an I'm-broke-and-in-high-school-or-college. Or as she put it, "I-can-swing-this-in-less-than-one-paycheck affordable. I’m-a-teenage-author affordable. I’ve-only-got-sixty-bucks-but-my-manuscript-needs-some-help affordable."

 Well. What are we waiting for? If nothing else, give her a ring, see what's what. As writers we are excellent at querying and asking questions, so don't let anything stop you in this case. Don't let that one weak sentence, paragraph, or character stand between you and a manuscript you can wholly and utterly confident in.

Monday, September 24, 2012

When Writing Goes Slowly...

I have just discovered due to some suddenly planned meetings and scheduling issues that my writing day on Wednesday (aka the only day I have time to write in my book these days) is going to be compromised...if you get a shorter than usual blog post on Friday, you'll know why. I'll be trying to make up and recover lost time.


I have also been unable to write the 20+ pages a day I had hoped at the beginning of the fall. But really, I could have done it, right? Well, no, actually.

Don't get discouraged when your writing goes slowly. Unless it's the only thing you've got going on, it's not going to be the only thing you've got going on.

See what I did there?

Recently I calculated it out. On an average day, what with a full course load, my part time job, my internship, my classwork, my Editorship of the literary magazine on campus, and my attempts to get my life figured out, I probably work a good 16-18 hours a day. Work. Every now and then we'll throw in something fun and guess what-- that work load probably doesn't change. What does change is how much time I'll have to eat/sleep/shower/write/read etc. Because the work load can't change. What has to get done has to get done. For example, last night I stayed up so that I could finish reading The Hobbit. (You'll get to hear about that on Friday.) I woke up tired this morning and thought, you have only yourself to blame.

Well, it's true. Sacrifices must be made for the greater good. In this case the greater good included me reading The Hobbit. Don't ask me how. It's serious business.

I was originally going to be writing in my book three times a week. It has turned into once a week in order for me to keep up with this blog. I may have to alter the schedule and reorganize things to even it out-- perhaps move to once-a-week blogging and take the other two days for writing. We shall see. But on the average day of writing in my book I only chug out about 5-7 pages as opposed to twenty. Well, this isn't very surprising either. Sure, I wrote 20 pages all at once in my first run. That was when I was newly inspired, fired up, and had all day to do it. And it took me all day. My writing 'mornings' are just that-- mornings. About three hours in which I get to not only wake up, get ready for class, but try to be creative enough to plop out my tale.



So I guess I could say I'm doing well.

I still plan on being done by Christmas. I have a few 'vacations' coming up that hopefully will not be ploughed through by job-search and classwork. I'll get the work done. A good thing to remember--I've said it many times before-- is that our writing, though it be our passion and our joy (*cough*) is also our job, and it's work. It needs to be done.

Off to work I go!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Wordsworth...

I stumbled across this poem today, by the dear William Wordsworth. I sometimes wonder (and should probably research it myself, but the tendency to crawl back in bed is being fought hard enough by sitting in this chair alone, so research will wait) if his name is true or if he came up with a clever pen name. For what better name for a poet is there besides Wordsworth? I tell you...

In any case, here Wordsworth is actually telling his readers to put their books down! To go and get fresh air! And sunlight! What!? We're going to grow fat if we don't!

          UP! up! my Friend, and quit your books;
          Or surely you'll grow double:
          Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks;
          Why all this toil and trouble?

          The sun, above the mountain's head,
          A freshening lustre mellow
          Through all the long green fields has spread,
          His first sweet evening yellow.

          Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife:
          Come, hear the woodland linnet,    10
          How sweet his music! on my life,
          There's more of wisdom in it.

          And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
          He, too, is no mean preacher:
          Come forth into the light of things,
          Let Nature be your teacher.

          She has a world of ready wealth,
          Our minds and hearts to bless--
          Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
          Truth breathed by cheerfulness.     20

          One impulse from a vernal wood
          May teach you more of man,
          Of moral evil and of good,
          Than all the sages can.

          Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
          Our meddling intellect
          Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things:--
          We murder to dissect.

          Enough of Science and of Art;
          Close up those barren leaves;       30
          Come forth, and bring with you a heart
          That watches and receives.
                                                              1798.


Well, you know what I have to say to that? My favorite place to be reading is outside. Have you ever tried it? I once fell asleep in a wheelbarrow under a dogwood tree in the summer, right next to the hydrangeas. So take that Wordsworth! How about hiking 9 miles straight up to the Chicago Basin and reading I, Robot among mountains 14,000 feet high?

Hmph.

Good morning, everyone. Today I'm recommending you again to my favorite blog-author, Sarah Hoyt. I rediscovered her article this morning while going through my archives, blearily wondering what do I write, what do I write, what do I write...oh! Now this is a good one-- how does one break into the publishing world?

Hoo hoo...this is like asking how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie-roll pop. And then asking the person doing the licking to form an algorithm that correlates to the color and flavor of the pop as well as the direction they're standing and the temperature outside.

Well, Hoyt doesn't hide any of the facts, and from someone who's been there she's got a good vantage point. She does however offer 'the other hand' on much advice. Such as, where before we've heard again and again-- get an agent rather than going directly to a publisher, ePublishing is still too uncertain and volatile, etc.

Well, Hoyt says to not get an agent-- they don't have the power they used to, and quite frankly, why are we standing off from ePublishing for being uncertain and volatile when the entire traditional publishing industry is just the same?

Oh dear. Now I'm confused.

Well, read her article (the full article is also located here). Drawing from my plethora of wisdom, all I can say in response is that if you're offered two closed fists, each with a 'prize' inside, you pick the one your gut tells you to. Hoyt does preface her article by saying "no one knows anything". That may sound cynical and hopeless, but really, with the right mindset, it's rather hopeful. If no one knows anything, you can pick the path you travel without the fear of 'doing it wrong'. And in publishing, that does seem to be the case these days. Agents or publishers, traditional or digital?

Until the industry settles down into its new skin, it's going to be hazy. I'm going to stick with agents and traditional publishing methods. It's the way I like, it's the way I've researched, it's the way I've learned. I'll certainly keep up on the research-- that would by my advice to anyone. Whatever road you take, get a map of the other road. Research like crazy the industry you don't choose-- that way, if the alternate route proves to be smoother and sunnier than the stormy mountain you've chosen, you know exactly how to get there quickly. Don't get left behind in the times. Know both ways of how to publish your novel. And then once the industry settles perhaps I'll dig in a different sandbox.

My real question is, will it settle into a new skin? And if so, when?

Monday, September 17, 2012

What's Your Writing Muse?

Everyone has something that inspires them to write and allows them to focus better on what they're doing, to pull from that annoyingly difficult to reach muse-spot with all the really juicy metaphors and gritty scenes. Maybe it's having a movie playing in the background, or a pile of chocolate peanut butter cookies next to the keyboard (messy but I bet it's delicious). For me, undoubtedly the trick lies in music.

I've tried on occasion writing with my everyday 'listening' music: Coldplay, U2, Rush, BOC, Journey, and other classic rock giants. Now and again I stumble on something alright, but it isn't consistent. The lyrics often distract me and I lose focus of what it is I'm actually doing so that I can listen to the music. Sometimes there are exceptions if the lyrics are just subdued enough either in tone or in energy that they can slip by without fully registering in the brain and instead give a flavor just like any other musical instrument would.


This is the fine line-- to find music that stimulates your brain waves and gives the flavor needed to paint the picture you want without distracting you from what you want to be writing. The tune also has to stand out, so that if you're like me and you listen to a single song on repeat for as long as three hours to get a single chapter or scene right, you won't realize an hour and a half in that you haven't heard a single note of the song in fifteen minutes and have no idea where it went.

It's amazing the brain's power to tune things out in favor of listening to an inner dialogue. Shame it never seems to work on command...if everyone could do it, there would never be any need for 24-hour study rooms or quiet hours. Anyone could study or write in the middle of a mosh pit.

So what music is the best for writing? Of course, it's going to vary for everyone, but I find the music that suits me best lies in movie soundtracks. Much of the time movies are based on books or true events, and even if they aren't, they're the visual imaginings of another 'writer' just like you. The soundtrack is the audio representation of their dream world, and it can be just as inspiring to your inner landscape as it was to fleshing out their visual one.

 
Also, soundtracks very rarely have any lyrics that will distract you (or make you realize you just typed up the line to the song rather than the next sentence in the paragraph). Sure, there may be wordless singing, perhaps some choirs chanting in Latin-- I like these songs best. I can imagine the soundtrack belonging to my own book, moving along in the background as I spin out the characters' lives, perhaps even accompanying them when one day, *cough*, my books are published, best-sellers, and given a movie contract. With action figures and lunchboxes and tennis shoes.

What, it could happen.

Right now I'm listening to my 'song of the week' that will probably be my inspiration for anything I write in the next 10 days. I've been looking for the soundtrack to this movie, End of the Spear, for years and years. It's not available for purchase (or at least since I looked last it's not) and I've been missing this music since I saw it in the film at least eight or nine years ago...really? I'm getting old.

 
Then came the miracle of Youtube. I'm sure now if I looked I could also find it on such music platforms as Grooveshark or Pandora (very good for getting music vibes going if you can't stand listening to the same song again and again and don't have a playlist of your own). I have now discovered not one but two of my favorite songs off of the End of the Spear OST and can listen to them at my liesure while I write. And they're very effective. One helped me write an entire paper the other night. Yes, I find them so inspiring that even an academic paper came willingly as if it were creative writing.

So try out some soundtracks, see what you think. What do you use as your inspiration to write?

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Soliloquy on Writers

 
Writers...well, what can I say?
 


I suppose it isn't entirely fair of me to do a blog post on writers, being one. Am I biased? Of course I am! And yet at the same time I know exactly what it means. And I hope you know I'm terrible at solitaire. I prefer Mahjong.

There's a saying that, given a long enough time, a roomful of chimpanzees could come up with the entirety of Shakespeare's "Hamlet". I take umbrage at that. You know, given enough tries (as in the millions of billions) it could statistically be argued that anything could happen. Does that mean it will?

No. Frankly, no. As long as I stare at it, this pile of paperwork next to my desk will not become a glass of chocolate milk. My book will not write itself, especially with a roomful chimpanzees, and where would I get a roomful of chimpanzees anyway? Besides, I haven't got the time to wait on them to figure it out. Or enough bananas.

I'm being silly. Oh dear.

In any case, the argument that chimps could write "Hamlet" removes all talent, work, or imagination out of the piece. It states that literature is nothing more than a random assortment of letters that form words in a particular order. Nothing more. There's nothing to it, really. Anyone, and anything, could write "Hamlet".

I hate this. Now, I'm entirely a proponent that anyone can learn how to write. Anyone can learn how to write well. Can anyone write the next Lord of the Rings or I, Robot? Certainly not! There is a certain something that captures the wildness of the readers, especially on such a great scale as that...and that a writer must have somehow translated into story for their book or tale to be truly great. I don't know exactly what that certain something is. You could call it imagination, you could call it inspiration, you could even call it dreams, but none of those words work quite right because a writer can have all of those and still not have that...something.

There are days when I worry I either do not have that something or never shall. But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop writing, stop trying. You never know when you'll find it. Perhaps you'll discover it later in a book written years in the future, or perhaps you'll discover later that you had it all along. To give up before the grand story is over would be foolish. And so I never give up, nor will I ever tell anyone else to do so, no matter how much their writing style differs from mine.

Writing is like art. There is a base line that can be determined between good and bad writing, but it is founded on things like grammar, format, content, flow, speech, syntax, etc, just as there is a base line of good or bad art that is founded on composition, understanding of materials, color theory, geometry, and history. Neither of these have anything to do with passion and sorrow and dreams. From that point on, the artistic opinions, mental capacity, and styles of individuals take over.

There are plenty of good, fantastic books out there that I will not understand, and probably will not like as a result. One of my faults in art is that if I do not understand it, often I will not like it. At least to an extent. I struggle with Modern art this way. Much of the time I just don't see the story, or the meaning, or the reason, or, frankly, the point. However, there are some pieces of art, some works of literature, that I could never explain given a thousand years to look at them, and I adore them. Why? I don't know.



I do know that when I have writer's block it is rarely because I have nothing to write. It is simply because I'm tired, or busy, or lazy, or any other number of things that keep me from getting down to it and working. It's work! This blog proves that-- I have not run out of things to say even after a few months of writing twice a week. And I don't think I will. There are always new things happening in the world of writing or reading: always new developments in the publishing industry or new books to be read and thought about. There is always something to write.

So write away-- I think I will, in any case.

Monday, September 10, 2012

With the economy as bad as it's been, the last thing anyone seems to be hopeful for is the book industry. Especially with eBooks and eReaders and iPads 1, 2, and 3 being as popular as they have been--  what hope is there for the physical book? There have been some wildly successful eAuthors who have published a million books (and therefore earned a million dollars) without a publishing contract, setting the stage for what seems to be the new publishing Way. In light of this new phenomenon, with crime and western novelist John Locke selling as many-- and probably more by this point in time-- books as James Patterson and Michael Connelly, but with no agent or publishing house or marketing budget, the future has been looking rather grim for the traditional means of publishing. Emma Barnett of The Telegraph wrote on John Locke that his "remarkable achievement is being hailed as a milestone of the internet age and the beginning of a revolution in the way that books are sold."

Now, I did a study last year on eBooks, ePublishing, and eReaders. The study itself was conclusive even as it was inconclusive. The fear that the book is dead and that technology killed it is utterly overblown. If anything else, technology is helping books to be read more. Now, is it helping books to be more economically profitable or protected for the publishers and the authors?

That's another story altogether.

It can be argued that technology killed the music business. People don't buy CDs or Albums or Records anymore. At least a large number of them don't-- why spend the money when you can find a way to download it somewhere for free, legally or illegally? And thus the music business is rocking. Not in terms of the big tycoons who are already established. No, they're fine. But any up and coming or hopeful or small music business, school, or band is going to find things much more difficult than they've ever been.

The same can be said to be happening to the publishing industry. New authors are going to have to fight to have their books published in the traditional way, even more so than usual. It's frustrating-- you can see all the new books coming out every year, you can argue that your book is better than the smut found in airport lounge (not all of it, but some, and I'm exaggerating on a stereotype here, so go with it), but you're still going to struggle after those agents and publishing houses, day after day, week after week, possibly even year after year. How are we going to manage?

Because not everyone can be a John Locke with a million dollars in eBook sales. My author mentor of this last summer gave the eBook thing a whirl, and while her poetry selection was free, she had an outstanding audience. However, as soon as she put a price tag on her work, even of .99 cents, her audience dropped to practically nothing. I am by no means saying that Mr. Locke had nothing but a lucky break. But he had something in addition to the fact that people wanted his books. Perhaps he caught the wave of eBooks right on the cusp of the wave that then crashed down and is settling out into a great ocean, now. I couldn't say.

Until the publishing industry finds its balance in the wake of the new technological evolution we're going through-- and we are certainly going through that-- things will be hard. But Sarah Hoyt of PJ Media addresses the topic from a better standpoint than I, as from the view of someone already out in the freelance and writing world of today.

In her article The (Publishing) Times, They Are Achanging, Hoyt addresses the different models of business that some agencies are going through-- of essentially opening up their own digital printing presses. To put it simply, they think that the publishing industry is so far gone that in two years all the big publishing tycoons will be as fallen as Rome is, and they'll have to already be able to stand on their own two feet. Unfortunately the model that they're embracing is not exactly the most...I shouldn't say 'ethical' with my limited knowledge of it. But I read Hoyt's article and my nose starts to wrinkle. I can smell a rat on my own when I see the words 'upfront costs' and 'conflict of interest'. Just like when I get letters from subsidiary publishers saying they 'found' my book in the Copyright archives. Oh yeah. Sure I'll pay them to put their hands on my brain child.

...Just in case you haven't been told, that is a bad idea. You are never to pay anyone for the privilege-- not for them to read your work, not for them to publish it, not for them to edit it, nothing. You are selling your work, and they are paying you for it. Rule number one. Don't forget it.

In any case, Hoyt sees this transition as no bad thing. There will be those big houses that "will pull back from the abyss. They can still offer value, or at least some of their imprints can, if they uncouple from the conglomerate and develop highly individualized selections and a community that’s loyal to them – say, like Baen. Then they can put their imprimatur on newbies and offer beginners a ready-made public they’d not otherwise have."

Ahh, now that is music to my ears. So the changing times are going to open up opportunities for the rest of us new authors. I like it. And you know, it shouldn't be all that surprising. The same can be seen in the  job market today-- even though things are really bad now, we're about to get through the Baby Boomers. The number of people retiring in the next five to ten years is going to be astronomical. And who is going to take their place in the job market?

Excuse me. Here's my resume. Oh, and here's a copy of my book.