Writing Around Frustration - Writers and Publishing Dinosaurs
I've been hearing frustration from a number of writers I know and respect. It has becoming increasingly difficult to get good work published if it doesn't fall into formulaic approaches that publishers think will make money. There's a dangerous trend of experimentation and new thinking getting pushed out of the market. Publishers want writers with "platforms" to automatically sell so there is no need to invest in building word and audience over the long run. Ironically, in a business where developing something new can take multiples of the time necessary to engineer and manufacturer the latest sophisticated consumer electronics device, those running the show are ever more lusting after instant gratification.
But some writers, universities, and individuals are trying to find different approaches to getting to readers. One example is the author-run Fiction Collective Two
, working with Florida State University, Illinois State University, private contributors, and the University of Alabama Press. Journalist and science fiction author Cory Doctorow has been releasing books and stories online
for some time, finding that it helps build audience and, ultimately, sell copies. Self-publishing has been around for years: Walt Whitman first sold Leaves of Grass that way. But I think we're entering a time when some variation on the idea could actually go beyond getting exposure for a daring writer and ultimately save publishing from itself.
Labels: Doctorow, Fiction Collective Two, publishing, self-publishing
Put Down That T-Shirt
In proof that admission to M.I.T. doesn't keep someone from being stupid, an undergraduate nearly got herself shot for looking like a walking bomb
Star Simpson, 19, was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and approached an airport employee in Terminal C at 8 a.m. to inquire about an incoming flight from Oakland, according to Major Scott Pare of the State Police. She was holding a lump of what looked like putty in her hands. The employee asked about the plastic circuit board on her chest, and Simpson walked away without responding, Pare said.
It was Playdough in her hand and "art" on her sweatshirt. Maybe being surrounded by machine gun-toting police had a beneficial effect on her education.
Labels: art, bomb, hoax, Logan, M.I.T., student
The Late Robert Heinlein Goes Online
A cooperative project between The Heinlein Prize Trust and the UC Santa Cruz Archives have put the Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Archives online
. That means all the published works with the associated notes, research, drafts, and edits. You can actually see evidence of his creative approach. These are all digitized versions of his files. An example is Time Enough for Love
, which has the following:
- Part 1, 184 pages, contains 66 pages of working notes, mostly calculation of genetic scenario. Manuscript pages listed “Discarded Pages” (but the content is included in the book; not new content). Pages of bugle calls music sheets (as used in the index of the book). A calendar picture of an attractive young lady, unclothed (looks like the book’s descriptions of Dora & Minerva). Article about cloning.
- Part 2, 199 pages, contains notecards for story.
- Part 3, 200 pages, contains notecards for story.
- Part 4, 200 pages, contains notecards for story.
- Part 5, 200 pages, contains notecards for story.
- Part 6, 119 pages, contains notecards for story.
- Part 7, 230 pages, contains first draft of novel (titled “Lazarus Long”, no edits, manuscript pages 1-216.
- Part 8, 234 pages, contains first draft of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 216-453.
- Part 9, 240 pages, contains first draft of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 454-692.
- Part 10, 245 pages, contains first draft of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 693-936, end.
- Part 11, 230 pages, contains first draft of novel (titled “Time Enough For Love”) with extensive hand edits, manuscript pages 1-219.
- Part 12, 231 pages, contains first draft of novel with extensive hand edits, manuscript pages 220-453.
- Part 13, 240 pages, contains first draft of novel with extensive hand edits, manuscript pages 454-692.
- Part 14, 240 pages, contains first draft of novel with extensive hand edits, manuscript pages 693-936, end.
- Part 15, 220 pages, contains first edited, retyped draft of novel with numerous hand edits, manuscript pages 1-218.
- Part 16, 226 pages, contains first edited, retyped draft of novel with numerous hand edits, manuscript pages 219-450.
- Part 17, 230 pages, contains first edited, retyped draft of novel with numerous hand edits, manuscript pages 451-676.
- Part 18, 223 pages, contains first edited, retyped draft of novel with numerous hand edits, manuscript pages 677-902, end.
- Part 19, 210 pages, contains master copy of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 1-204.
- Part 20, 211 pages, contains master copy of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 205-413.
- Part 21, 210 pages, contains master copy of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 414-621.
- Part 22, 221 pages, contains master copy of novel, no edits, manuscript pages 622-841, end.
- Part 23, 307 pages, contains proof copy of novel, no edits.
But don't head for the browser yet, because there are a couple of catches. One: it still costs money. The Time Enough for Love
files are $69, though not everything is that expensive. For example, the novella The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag
, with 4 pages of typed and handwritten notes as well as 186 pages of typewritten manuscript are $3. The other catch is that you'd better have a fast Internet connection:
Most of these files are extremely large. The largest files--such as "To Sail Beyond the Sunset" at 2194 pages--have been broken down into files of less than 300 pages each. These will still result in downloadable files of 80-200mb. A broadband connection is strongly recommended. Don’t try this with a dial-up. Dial-up download speeds are not supported.
You have been warned.
Labels: archives, Heinlein, online
Big Brother is Reading Over Your Shoulder
According to Wired Magazine, the Department of Homeland Security is keeping wide ranging information on international travelers entering the country:
Privacy advocates obtained database records showing that the government routinely records the race of people pulled aside for extra screening as they enter the country, along with cursory answers given to U.S. border inspectors about their purpose in traveling. In one case, the records note Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Gilmore's choice of reading material, and worry over the number of small flashlights he'd packed for the trip.
Undoubtedly they're looking hard for the people who carry Al Queada training manuals.
Labels: books, Homeland Security, reading
Happy National Punctuation Day!
Care for commas? Love the ellipsis? Dote on dashes? Then National Punctuation Day
is for you. As the site say, this is "the holiday that reminds America that a 'semicolon is not a surgical procedure.'" Jeff Rubin, the guy who managed to found this event, even has ideas on the site for how to celebrate the occasion.
Labels: holiday, national punctuation day, punctuation
Store Claims Ownership of ISBN Numbers
The Harvard Coop, a cooperative store in Harvard Square that is the official book source for Harvard students (and used to be for MIT students, though I think that may have changed), apparently claims that the ISBN numbers of textbooks it carries are its intellectual property
, according to Harvard's undergraduate newspaper, the Harvard Crimson. The store had kicked out a Harvard junior for writing down the ISBN numbers - an international system of book title serial numbers - of a set of books needed for a sociology class.
The apparent new policy could be a response to efforts by Crimsonreading.org—an online database that allows students to find the books they need for each course at discounted prices from several online booksellers—from writing down the ISBN identification numbers for books at the Coop and then using that information for their Web site.
The only problem with the ISBN theory is that publishers pay to get the numbers assigned to them. I'm scratching my head as to how a book seller - which is only carrying the set of books because they are a requirement of the university, and isn't independently putting the series together - would claim an intellectual property right. Maybe the store management should head over to the Harvard Law School and see if some kind professor would give them a reality-restoring dope slap.
Labels: Coop, Crimson, Harvard, ISBN
YouTube and the Writer-Editor Relationship
Here's a video on YouTube about how writers and editors work together
- and it's even funnier if you realize how close to the truth it lies.
Labels: editors, video, writers, YouTube
Oratory in Madagascar
I was listening to the BBC World Service program The Word
(it's "A look at novels plus reports on theatre, poetry, journalism, biography, history and anthropology") and heard an interesting story. The subject was kabary (pronounced kabar) - the national form of oratory performed in Madagascar and always given in the language Malagasy. At family, political, religious, and other formal functions, a qualified person called a mpikabary discusses an issue, using complex word play, proverbs,and idioms, in a stylized and formal version of the language, all without ever directly mentioning the topic. It's like a formal address completely formed by inference. If you'd like to learn more about it, here's a site that describes it
Labels: kabary, Madagascar, Malagasy, oratory
Student Tasered for Asking a Question
ABC News has a disturbing story about a student who was tasered
and then arrested "after loudly and repeatedly trying to ask U.S. Sen. John Kerry questions during a campus forum." Videos, available on YouTube
, show police pulling the student away from the microphone and then tasering him:
University spokesman Steve Orlando said Meyer was asked to leave the microphone after his allotted time was up. Meyer can be seen refusing to walk away and getting upset that the microphone was cut off.
However, Kerry apparently was saying during all this that he considered the question important and that he would answer the student. And, according to another ABC report, Kerry condemned the arrest
. Has the taser now become a form of political speech at universities?
Labels: Kerry, police, Politics, student, taser
Missouri County to Pay for Good Press
According to a story in the Sun Herald
, Hancock County tourism officials are planning to pay freelance writers an extra $100 if they place a toady's article somewhere or other that is at least 100 miles from the area. (Is that because anyone closer will be laughing at the concept?) Each placement garners another image of Ben Franklin when the writer sends in a copy.
Not only is this completely unethical from a journalistic view, but the county wise people are now probably sinking any chance they had at favorable press, because no editor in his or her right mind is going to trust any freelance article on the subject. Why stick your foot in your mouth when you could jam it into your eye?
Labels: freelance, Hancock County, MIssouri, tourism
Greenspan and Fed-Speak
Former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan actually admitted to his contribution to the language of obfuscation: FedSpeak. He said the following in the 60 Minutes interview yesterday
I would engage in some form of syntax destruction, which sounded as though I were ... answering the question, but, in fact, had not.
Reportedly he was chuckling when he related this:
At one hearing, Greenspan said, "Modest pre-emptive actions can obviate the need of more drastic actions at a later date, and that could destabilize the economy."
"Very profound," Greenspan says, after listing to his testimony.
Greenspan personally worked on these "profound" comments.
"But what would often happen is you'd get two newspapers with opposing headlines, coming out of the same hearing," Stahl remarks.
"I succeeded. I succeeded," Greenspan says.
Why, oh, why didn't anyone in the press simply say that he was saying nothing? I guess it's not as "profound" a story.
Labels: 60 Minutes, Fed-speak, Greenspan
Entering the Market Frey - When Bad is Good
I have often argued that eventually a person's behavior catches up in all sorts of ways. But the case of James Frey
leaves me scratching my head. As the New York Times reports:
James Frey, the author who admitted making up portions of his best-selling memoir “A Million Little Pieces,” has signed a new book deal for his novel “Bright Shiny Morning,” with HarperCollins. The dollar figure was not disclosed.
Maybe he's turned over a new leaf. Maybe publishers can trust him now that they're willing to run out and out fiction, and not make the kinds of demands that sometimes drive ambitious, hungry, or needy writers into fabrication. Then again, here's the end of that article:
Reached by telephone before the announcement, Mr. Frey denied rumors that he had sold a short story collection, saying, “I have never written a short story in my life.”
But Mr. Frey published a short story last fall in a catalog for an exhibition by Malerie Marder, a Los Angeles-based artist.
Then again, maybe not.
Labels: Frey, HarperCollins, novel
Publishers and Rejecting Winners
Last Sunday there was an amusing New York Times article by David Oshinsky
. The topic was how at least one publisher - Alfred A. Knopf, whose long-time editor Ashbel Green is retiring at the end of this year
- had managed to turn down a host of promising books, including Anne Frank's diary ("a dreary record of typical family bickering, petty annoyances and adolescent emotions"), Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth
(Americans weren't "interested in anything on China"), and George Orwell's Animal Farm
("impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A."). Other rejects? Jean-Paul Sartre, Mordecai Richler, historians A. J. P. Taylor and Barbara Tuchman, Vladimir Nabokov, Jorge Luis Borges, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Anaïs Nin, Sylvia Plath, and Jack Kerouac.
What is interesting is to remember that this type of article appears periodically, and people always seem tickled by the fallibility of publishers' sensibilities. But the story is hardly new. Walt Whitman had to self-publish Leaves of Grass
at first. Dozens of publishers snubbed the original Chicken Soup for the Soul and What Color is Your Parachute - neither on the same literary level, but evidence that the publishing world can't even reliably predict tastes of the mass market. And with the growing demand for authors that have a "platform," it makes me wonder how many resoundingly good books, stories, poems, essays, biographies, histories, and other works of the mind fall to the wayside, never to be seen other than by friends and family.
Labels: authors, books, New York Times, publishers, rejection
Ashbel Green to Retire from Knopf
Ash Green is calling it quits at the end of this year. Rarely are book editors well known, but Green has been in the business for 50 years, starting as an agent, then to PR, and finally ending up as an editor, a job he was apparently made for, and it for him. He's been an editor to Ken Burns (yes, that
Ken Burns), Walter Cronkite (yes, that
Walter Kronkite), and Gabriel García Márquez (and, again, yes, that
Gabriel García Márquez). It's the end of an era at the publishing house.
Labels: Ash Green, Knopf, retirement, retires
Stand Down From Objectivity
The American Journalism Review has an interesting articleon whether the mainstream media could literally learn something important from the Daily Show
. It's one of the few serious examinations of the issue, and one that, I think, is long overdue.
I've become convinced that no matter how the Emperor seems to react, he wants to know that he's striding nude through the land. How tiring it must be to carry such pretense, to be constantly waiting for someone to point out the obvious. As time goes on, the investment in the image is enormous, and no one - not one of us - wants to let go. Because in the story of the Emperor's New Clothes, we'd all like to think that we're the little boy who pointed out the obvious. We're not. We're the people around the emperor, all helping to maintain the fictional image.
In this case, it's the public that is tired of the media maintaining the stentorian tones, weighing in on the Issues of the Day, and otherwise not saying what the reporters know is actually happening. Think of the flack that broke out when private emails from the Wall Street Journal's Iraq correspondent
became public knowledge. Suddenly, someone who was there said what she saw. But none of it had been coming out in the paper, and the Journal apparently kept her from further reporting at the time until the 2004 election was over.
I'm a member of the media, and can understand trying to support principle. But is the real interest of the media to protect so-called objectivity? Or is it to support self-image and to try and reduce criticism? Over the years, I've found that people who are standing for something generally come across as courageous. In contrast, the media most often reeks of fear, treading cautiously, testing each step as if creeping over a frozen lake of public opinion. The sad fact is that the water thawed long ago and instead of consuming itself with staying above the fray, the media should be concerned about drowning.
This is a critical time for our country and the world. It's during periods of apparent calm and "localized" violence (turmoil in Iraq and other parts of the world being conveniently elsewhere) that the forces generally marshal for calamity. Massive conflict doesn't come out of the ether, and the biggest downturns in economies have happened after long stretches of what appeared to be prosperity. But always there is the weakness or problem under the surface, the topics that no one wants to address. If the media continues to avoid saying what it sees and knows, the time will eventually pass in which it can freely express truth. Then that period passes, and suddenly freedom is no longer an option.
Labels: American Journalism Review, Daily Show, fear, Jon Stewart, media, objectivity
Rosie O'Donnell Flips Over Book Flap
Rosie O'Donnell is not happy with the publishers of her new book, Celebrity Detox
. Apparently the publishers got some milestones of her life wrong
On her official blog, she writes, "So i just got my first hard copy of my new book CELEBRITY DETOX there on the front flap in print 'when rosie odonnells mother was diagnosed with cancer in 1968, ten year old rosie thought fame could cure her,' i was born in 1962 my mother was diagnosed in 1973 WTF!"
Rosie, I don't know how to break it to you, but authors have been going through this for a long time. Over the years, I've come to the point where I'm happy if they at least get my name right.
Labels: book, mistakes, publisher, Rosie O'Donnell
Madeleine L'Engle Dies at 88
The headlines are calling her a children's author
, and that may be true in part, but L'Engle's books were hardly just for "kids." They addressed real problems with realistic characters, fine writing, and a willingness to address the dark side in people while not giving up on them. At least she left a solid body of work, and anyone whose writing is so often banned can't be all bad.
Labels: Madeleine L'Engle, obituary
Lexar Makes Kodak Flash Memory
The other day I received a press release about Lexar developing and marketing Kodak-branded flash memory products over the next five years. I don't know what the price will be, but I've found it useful to know who private labels what from whom. If you find yourself in need of a flash card and one has a Kodak name, at least you'll know who actually makes it, rather than wondering if it might be a generic product from some outsourced part of the manufacturing world.
Labels: flash memory, Kodak, Lexar
Mystery Research is Murderous
Polish author Krystian Bala has received a 25 year jail term in his country for murder - that seemed to have inspired the writer's latest novel
. Even the brief accounts in the BBC story of the 7-year-old murder sound grizzly:
The body of Dariusz Janiszewski, the young, well-liked owner of a small advertising agency, was spotted by fishermen seven years ago on the banks of the River Oder, near the Polish city of Wroclaw.
He had been tortured, starved and tied up in a way that made it impossible to swim.
Apparently, Bala's novel, recently published, uses similar details that he claims were from news account of the time - but that doesn't explain his having called the victim on the last day he was seen, nor the prosecution's assertion that he was jealous of Mr Janiszewski for having an alleged affair with Bala's estranged wife. There obviously is such a thing as over-researching a book.
Labels: author, Krystian Bala, murder, novel, Poland
Google as Publisher
I ran this on my business blog
, BizBlast, but thought it might be of interest here - as I'm convinced that Google is out to become the world's largest publisher.
Labels: Google, news, newspapers, publishing, wire services
Rethinking Star Trek
There's an interesting article on movie site Ain't It Cool News
. If the concept of story spoilers bothers you, then realize that there might be some here - or not. But if you can get over knowing a potential detail about a possible new Star Trek movie, then this is a must read because of the intriguing way someone might reinvigorate a story line that you might have sworn would have to be played out.
When Star Trek was cancelled in the 60s, fans howled but everyone else thought it was over and gone. They were wrong to the tune of at least four more television series and how many movies? I would have thought there was only so much you could mine, but someone is at least tossing out an interesting idea. As it's a science fiction series, have someone go back in time, alter the timeline, and then you have lots of material in a newly constructed universe that still allows everything that went before to remain.
Even if not what's really in the works, what an intriguing concept! You shake things up, create a rationale that many of the faithful might buy into eventually, and offer lots of new branching out points for different series. The question I have is are the circumstances surrounding Star Trek so singular that this wouldn't work for another series? You'd need people who wanted more stories as well as an established story line that could allow some form of time travel to shake things up. I'm not sure that the results would be satisfying if done in some other genre, where the approach would have to be, "What if Mr. Darcy hadn't been taken with Elizabeth Bennett?"
Labels: Aint It Cool, alternate universe, movie, Star Trek