Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Darker Side to Tolkien's Bombadil

Now this is interesting...

Tom Bombadil is a character in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy who gets very little attention. He's given no debut in any of the films and he is widely considered a digression in the first book. So what importance does he have other than a chance for Tolkien to write some nonsense songs and a cheery, enigmatic woodsman to sing them?

I've always considered Bombadil to be the ultimate of the "Neutral Good" characters, much like the elves who, when they give advice, are described as saying both yes and no at the same time to whoever asks them for their counsel. He doesn't really help but he doesn't hinder, either. In fact, he proves to be of great service to the hobbits in their initial departure from the Shire and from Hobbiton as they pass through the forest to escape the Black Riders, the Nazgul. The forest turns into a deeper danger than they initially thought, and they nearly get swallowed by Old Man Willow until Bombadil comes along to rescue them. He gives them shelter, food, and some of his non-advice before sending them on their way, and he even saves them again from Barrow-Wights before they depart his lands.

But is Bombadil as he seems? There are some who would argue-- no.

A friend and fellow Tolkien fan sent me the link to this article a few days ago, and I was baffled and chilled by it. Now, I don't quite buy into it myself, but it raises some very interesting theories that I found worthy of note and contemplation. The thesis? Tom Bombadil is not the ultimate Neutral Good. He's the ultimate evil, forerunner to even Sauron and Melkor.


So what proofs does this author have? Titled "Oldest and Fatherless: The Terrible Secret of Tom Bombadil", the article seeks to paint a portrait of Bombadil that is far from his perceived self. There are some really good and chilling points; and then there are some points that are incorrect. First, the author claims that no one has ever heard of Bombadil, and that this enhances his creepy enigma. The author states that
"By his own account (and by Elrond’s surprisingly sketchy knowledge) Bombadil has lived in the Old Forest since before the hobbits came to the Shire. Since before Elrond was born. Since the earliest days of the First Age.

And yet no hobbit has ever heard of him.
If Bombadil has indeed lived in the Old Forest all this time – in a house less than twenty miles from Buckland – then it stands to reason that he has never appeared to a single hobbit traveler before, and has certainly never rescued one from death. In the 1400 years since the Shire was settled."
Well, while there may not be a huge amount of knowledge on him, the assertion that no one knows about him or has ever heard about him isn't quite the case. Tolkien's notes even go so far as to list the different names Bombadil has among the races-- his Sindarin name is Iarwain Ben-adar (Eldest and Fatherless). Dwarves call him Forn, Men Orald. You can find these listings in the Middle-Earth dictionary or in notes from Tolkien's appendices. And while Frodo and Merry surely do have much lore, it is doubtful that they have even as much lore as this kind of research would require, having limited resources from which to study. So this point does not really stand on a leg.

However, there are some other points that the author raises that are a little more thought-provoking. For example,
"Bombadil implies (but avoids directly stating) that he had heard of their coming from Farmer Maggot and from Gildor’s elves (both of whom Frodo had recently described). But that also makes no sense. Maggot lives west of the Brandywine, remained there when Frodo left, and never even knew that Frodo would be leaving the Shire."
Hm. Well then, that's odd. What does it mean that Bombadil heard from a farmer who never left his homestead and even lives outside of Bombadil's expressly designated lands. Bombadil even refuses to accompany the hobbits to Bree because doing so would take him out of his realm, and he cannot or will not do that. The author raises this question as well, stating that
"There is a boundary around Bombadil’s country that he cannot or will not pass, something that confines him to a narrow space. And in return, no wizard or elf comes into his country to see who rules it, or to disturb the evil creatures that gather under his protection."
Is it a boundary? Or is it a cage?

There are many other points the author raises, including the state of Bombadil's realm being filled with horrible, angry trees and wights, the imprint of the dweller's nature on their surroundings, as well as Bombadil's clear power as of yet unused in the banishment of these evil things. The way the One Ring of Power does not affect him is held suspicious. The fact that Gandalf raises so many reasons against giving the Ring to Bombadil for protection, all of which seem slightly odd. Goldberry is actually the human embodiment of a huorn, a malcontented tree, depicted as she is like a willow, the same kind of tree that had just tried to eat the hobbits before Bombadil came to their rescue. Etc. etc., so on and so forth.

Do I believe that this is the case as either meant by Tolkien or not meant but accidentally stumbled upon? Not really. It is indeed possible that Bombadil is the ultimate evil, allowing others to do his work in defeating his only rival, Sauron, for mastery of Middle-Earth, and that he is merely biding his time until the elves and wizards leave for the Grey Havens to pounce upon the unsuspecting denizens remaining. But at the same time, I think it more likely that he is simply the forgetful, wood-minded being that he is. He is so far above the normal 'realm' of living that it barely touches him, and as such, if he were entrusted with the Ring, he'd forget about it, as Gandalf said. What cares he for the struggles and machinations of men and elves and dwarves and wizards? Goldberry is waiting and there are songs to sing in the wood.

Still, it's an interesting perspective. What do you think about our jolly-hearted friend?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Artistic Habits to Get Through the Day

Have you ever wondered how artists get through the day? Ever wonder how you get through the day?

Personally, I keep detailed notes-- tallies in my agenda and sticky notes galore. I jot down everything from assignments, deadlines, my work schedule, to meetings over tea, errands, phone calls, and reminders. There is not a thing that needs to get done that I don't have a list or note for.

I also try to keep moving. If I allow myself to start puttering around, I'll be on Facebook doing nothing of any real value for an hour. If I let myself curl up with a book, seven hours could pass and I'd never know. There are appropriate times for these kinds of relaxation, of course. Time to go sit in front of my easel and get covered in oil paints. Most of the time, my time is not that time.

Make sense? Good.

Of course, I am not alone in this ritual of getting things done, nor am I likely the only one who does it this way. But that does not mean that every artist has the same schedule as I do. I've know some who get drunk in order to paint and some who just...don't sleep. Ever. Some who have to be alone when they work without any interruptions or bodily presence beyond their own. But what are their real secrets, and why do they do what they do?

Now author Mason Currey will answer all those questions! In a series of short blog posts titled "Daily Rituals" which will soon become a full-length published novel with over 161 entries from interviewed authors, editors, painters, architects, poets, and philosophers, Currey explores the various schemes and schedules that get us artists through the day. Caffeine? Getting up early? Yoga? Or something even more...outlandish?
"Entry 1: How novelists, painters, philosophers, and filmmakers find time each day to do their work."
If you're like me, you have trouble getting everything crammed in the day. Somehow you manage it, one way or another, and over the course of the week your workload stays...well, constant, if nothing else. You juggle and compromise and generally stay up late and get up early. We all have little quirks to get it all finished. Currey has written these mini biographies of artist weirdness into a single comprehensive novel which will be serialized in miniature on his blog.
"About six years ago, I started collecting any information I could find about the daily routines of writers, artists, and other creative people—­­first for a blog that I ran for a couple of years, and then for a book that, I'm pleased to announce, will be released next Tuesday. It's called Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, and it presents brief profiles of 161 creative minds—among them, novelists, painters, poets, philosophers, filmmakers, and scientists—with a focus on how, exactly, they made the time each day to do their work." 
I admit, I'm intrigued. I love hearing about how other people do their work. Sometimes I get new ideas on how to do this or that, how to better manage my time. Sometimes I stay hard-headed and stick to my guns that my way is my way. Not necesarilly your way. But definitely and unquestionably my way. And here, the author supports me!
"The one lesson of the book is that there is no one way—the rituals and habits that helped Artist A create a masterpiece would never work for Artist B; and, actually, they might not even work for Artist A for very long."
We all are different and have our bizarre means of coping with our hectic schedules. But we also should be aware that that's ok. We should also try some new ways every once in a while. In short, why should you read the book? Well...
"Even the so-called great minds flailed about, made false starts, endured blocks and dry spells, obsessed over trivialities, and wasted huge chunks of time. If this sounds like you—well, you're in good company."

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Self-Publishing Again

I am pleased to announce that I am now...employed! Gainfully, beautifully, wonderfully employed in the publishing industry. You can imagine the literal screaming laps of joy that I did around my house when that news came in.

Basically, I get to sit and edit my client's manuscript all day long. How wonderful is that? Of course, there's much more to it than my paltry description includes -- text formatting, editor-author relations, filing skills, symbol categorization, research, history -- but every aspect of it caters to my love of words, of organization, of total and unrepentant geekitude. I'm coining that word right now. The next Shakespeare, right here ladies and gentlemen.

Well, sort of anyway...

The greatest thing about my workplace, though? Working here gives me more than just insight into being a copy-editor. I learn just as much from my coworkers as I do from my work and my clients. And I learn just as much from them outside of the work sphere as I do inside it.

One of my coworkers is a published author in the young adult fiction field; gothic romance and urban fantasy are her specialty. She and I also share a not-so-secret passion for Diet Dr. Pepper. Maybe it's an editor thing. Check out her website here to read her FAQs and look at her books. She is entirely self-published. Which means she wears so many more hats than just the 'author' bowler cap. She has the editor top hat, the public relations fedora, the social media beanie...she works. A lot.

Now, many of you probably remember me speaking to this topic before. I am a traditionalist, for now anyway-- until the self-publishing industry stabilizes (which could be about as oxymoronic a statement as passive editor) I'm going to try and go through a publishing house. But I'm always interested in hearing about self-publishing, especially in specific cases. She and I have talked briefly about self-publishing already, and she sent me some articles for consideration. So here: take a read, tell me what you think.
As my coworker describes, "this article gives a good breakdown of some advantages of self-publishing. One route many writers are pursuing is to become 'hybrid'-- as some of their books come out through trad. publishers, they choose to release others themselves (often their works in a different genre)."
This is Hugh Howey's story of how "Self-Publishing is the future-- and great for writers". Basically, self-publishing isn't nearly so high-risk as everyone thinks it is, and the 'pros' of traditional publishing aren't nearly so sparkly as everyone thinks, either. Yet again this balance thing I keep talking about-- anyone else seeing a pattern?
"The story of self-publishing is Jan Strnad, a 62-year-old educator hoping to retire in four years. To do so is going to require supplemental income, which he is currently earning from his self-published novels. In 2012, Jan made $11,406.31 from his work. That’s more than double what he made from the same book in the six months it was available from Kensington, a major publisher. He has since released a second work and now makes around $2,000 a month, even though you’ve never heard of him."
Wow. So self-publishing can actually be fiscally advantageous? Hm. I never thought of that. I always imagined having to chuck out a couple grand to get the book printed and advertised and spread and...but the digital age has changed that, too. Self-publishing takes a lot of work. But then again, so does traditional publishing. My initial excuse for not exploring self-publishing more was that I didn't have the time to do all the public relations and advertising on my own: keeping up with trying to spread this blog is one thing enough! But at the same time, many traditionally published authors are having to do that already, anyway. They have to maintain a website, a facebook page, an FAQ, answer emails, spread their readership. Er, well, yes. Now that you mention it, that does sound like 90% of the advertising for a book anyway, as the industry is going more digital these days, anyway. So what am I waiting for? As Hugh Howey states,
"Promotion will be up to you. Your publisher will want to see your social media presence before they offer you a book deal. Learning the ins and outs of self-publishing before signing with a major house is the best training imaginable. Not doing so would be like a hopeful race car driver not caring what’s under the hood. I’ve been shocked to discover, having worked with major publishers, that many of my self-published friends know more about the current publishing landscape than industry veterans with decades of experience. The more you learn and the more you keep an open mind, the better your chances for success."

Well, the whole purpose of this blog and all of my publishing efforts over the last six or seven years have been to learn about the industry. And I'll be learning a ton more at my new job in the publishing house. Besides, I already have a potential readership started. I'm pretty sure most of my family (and a cousin in particular comes to mind who would die for me to self-publish so she can finally get her hands on my sequel) would buy my books; maybe they would even give them as gifts. I have a decent readership following on Facebook for even just this blog, and if I did an eBook that was cheap enough, I'm sure I could do an initial spread of the work pretty decently.
Is it fear? Maybe. Fear of the unknown. I've never really researched self-publishing too much. Self-printing, yes, but that's a different animal. You can get Office Depot to do that if you don't care too much about it looking like an actual, bound book. And the more we look at self-publishing, the more it's beginning to make a bit more than a bit of sense...

"People I interacted with every day were appearing on bestseller lists or emailing me for advice on handling calls from agents. The hundreds appeared to be thousands. And this could only be a fraction of the actual number." 
America is a country full of self-starters. Why should it be so surprising that self-publishing is taking off?

I guess I'll have to give this whole self-published thing another thought...

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

E-Books Benefiting Publishers

Well who would have thought prediction was actually correct?

You may have read some of my earlier posts and research about eBooks and how they are or will affect publishing as a whole. If not, well, get to it! The publishing industry is changing, and quickly-- authors, potential authors, even readers would be wise to keep abreast of the situation, because anything that affects our beloved books is of great importance.

Recently on Publisher's Weekly, Jim Milliot reports that Higher e-book sales bolster the bottom-line at the big five while curtailing revenue growth.

What this means, essentially, is that the industry is in a state of change. In any change there is always going to be some sort of milling about which will cause growth and actual progress to stagnate or fall off. Imagine moving out of your house. There is always that initial moment where everyone is running around without actually doing anything, generally accompanied by quite a bit of hair-tearing or crying. Then there's the friend who showed up with the coffee, and things begin to be a bit easier. Things really get going when the friend with the sandwiches and bottles of water arrive. And when the friend with the truck makes their appearance, it's all gravy.

That's what is happening with eBooks. We're probably at about the sandwiches and bottled water stage. When the truck gets here, we'll see an overall spike and increase across the board in terms of revenue, output, and authorship. At the moment,
"more than one publisher (or parent company) said higher sales of e-books is boosting its bottom-line—even if e-books are curtailing revenue growth—and should lead to higher margins in the future."
Initially book-lovers were worried that eBooks would kill the tangible, paper book. But really, even as popular as eReaders have become and as quickly as digital media is expanding, the group of traditionalists and the amount of money to be made off of physical books is too great for anything to happen to them yet. Do a survey of people who read books frequently, and see how many answer the question about how books smell. You can't get that from a digital book.

After conducting some of my own extensive research into the matter, I came to the conclusion that the industry would make way for digital media and then find a balance between the two. And that, ladies and gentlemen, seems to be exactly what is happening. Milliot's article quotes Simon & Schuster's parent company CBS as observing:
“underlying publishing results reflect margin growth associated with an increase in the mix of revenues from digital book sales, which have lower production and distribution costs than print books. As the publishing business continues to transition to an increasing mix of digital book sales compared to print book sales, profit margins are expected to continue to grow.”
Let's face it, physical books are inefficient to publish. The paper and binding, the production, the loss of revenue with each box of books that doesn't sell and gets shipped back to the publisher at their own cost, any defects, any damaged still makes them worth it. And now with digital media cutting down on those costs, it will become easier to both publish books through cost-effective electronic means as well as use those savings to bolster physical production lines.

It's not all good news in Milliot's article, though. Several publishing companies have taken hard hits in terms of revenue and growth, and backlists continue to slide (for those who don't know, a backlist is the list of all books that a publisher has released in the past and are still on sale; the frontlist includes books that are current for the publishing 'season'; and discontinued books are, of course, no longer sold by their publisher and have been taken off the backlist). Legal issues still being worked out due to eBooks are also proving costly, so it's not just the physical book that is causing problems--
"Penguin Group had the largest decline in earnings in the year, which it said had to do with the slowing sales of backlist titles. Parent company Pearson ate the charges for the e-book legal costs in the year totaling £32 million—a figure that also included expenses tied to the formation of Penguin Random House."
Still, the conclusion is as of yet positive. HarperCollins reports leaps upwards in terms of sales and earnings, and News Corp. views eBooks as positive, not negative, for publishing and the business of books. The company claims,
“as our digital products continue to account for more of our business, we expect to benefit from increased profit contribution and improved working capital dynamics due to diminishing physical plant requirements, inventory and returns related to our print business as well as faster payments for e-books.”
Check out the original article and some of the charts that Milliot provides on the revenue and return of the publishing companies. And put down that picket poster claiming It's the End! The end of books is far, far from being a reality.