Friday, July 31, 2009

My favorite cocktail napkin...

What a great quote from legendary fantasy author Terry Brooks. It says: "I've always thought that if people want to go beyond vampires and zombies, they ought to write about writers, because they're weird!" I jotted it down on my napkin after he said it, which he seemed to think it was funny and he was nice enough to sign it.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Day One - Laughter & Lessons Learned

Had trouble with the wireless today, so live updates many not be possible. This is all very different from what I expected and so very different from what my internet researches led me to believe... -Scott Three important things I learned today...
  1. The "One Sheet" that so many websites claim are an imperative for selling your novel or book proposal are anathema to the agents... at least the agents at this conference. They arrive by plane and depart the same way. I suppose that carrying a ream of paper in your carry-on bags isn't a desirable thing and the airlines charge through the nose for weighty bags these days.
  2. Same goes for business cards.
  3. Have two good pitches, both of them short and sweet. One for the halls and elevators and one for the table. This is all you get to sell your idea to an agent or editor.
I can't say as other conferences or agents on another coast feel the same way, but everyone repeats the mantra "Don't hand them anything, it's an imposition and they don't want it". Interesting how different the research can be from the application... Oh! And #4. Terry Brooks is a riot. (Incidentally, so is James Rollins, who was there to introduce him.) Terry had us rolling in the aisles and my wife nodding along as he talked about how weird we writers really are. And when I jotted down my favorite quote from his talk, Terry was nice enough to sign it. Once I find my download cord, I'll take a picture and post it for your amusement.


THIS WEEKEND!!! (Wow! That got here fast!) This weekend (starting tonight actually) I will be at the Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference. Meeting new friends, sitting down with editors and agents to pitch my novel. The docket is full of the usual meetings on time management, platforms and writing groups. Tonight is the kickoff event with keynote speaker Terry Brooks. I'm kinda nervous about the whole thing. I've been to plenty of conferences in various capacities, but this is my first writing conference and my first attempt at pitching my novel face to face. I'll be liveblogging as much as I can when I can find a wireless signal... assuming my battery holds out or I can find a plug, of course. Wish me luck!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Friday, July 24, 2009

Finger Food?

Someone asked me recently whether I was at all concerned that my comments on Amazon's Kindle and eBooks in general might someday come back to bite me. After all, I am trying to get a novel published and then I have to sell it to people. That necessitates making nice with retailers.... so, isn't that biting the hand that feeds me? Have I really said anything bad about any one bookseller on here? Because they all seem to get my money at some point in time or another. For the record, I'm a big fan of bookstores. All of them, really. When I was first dating the woman who is now my wife, we would often go on to the Tattered Cover instead of going to a movie. That sounds terribly romantic doesn't it? We've been married almost ten years and a nice day out still involves at least one bookstore. Isn't nerd love sweet? I want booksellers to thrive. I want all of them to survive. The Tattered Cover, Elliot Bay, Powells as well as Borders, Barnes & Noble and Amazon. I would miss them if they were gone. Without Amazon, I wouldn't have been able to find esoterica like Middleton's A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique. That title would still be scrawled on the index card in my wallet instead of up on the Amazon wish list where my friends found it and bought it for me. Powell's is the only place I can think of where that sort of book might pop up on the shelf and I don't get down to Portland nearly often enough... Incidentally, one of the things that inspires me to write about publishing and bookselling and allows me to go into detail comes as much from the decade I spent working for one or the other major book retailer as it does from my experience as a writer. This blend of perspectives is where I come from when I write this blog. There's a reason why I added "Technology" to the topic header. We are standing at the intersection of technology and our literary culture -- for better or worse, the industry is transforming in front of our eyes. You can't talk about that without discussing e-Books. And you can't discuss e-Books without discussing the industry leader in the e-Reader market. The Amazon Kindle sets the pace for e-Readers if only because of its name recognition (actual sales figures are a subject of great speculation). There's no ignoring that. Everyone who comes along -- whether it Barnes & Noble's new site or someone we've never heard of -- everyone will be casting themselves in the Amazon mold. Despite a Luddite streak a mile wide (it took a major illness in my family to get me to begin carrying a cell phone), I think e-Books are an excellent idea if we can get the kinks worked out. I recently read a biography of Gutenberg by John Man that mentioned as an aside that the printed output of western printing presses is roughly equivalent to the mass of the Alps. Not a mountain of books, a mountain range of books. In terms of ink and paper, that simply isn't a sustainable output. Much though I love the smell, feel and heft of a real book, the e-Reader seems inevitable. And it makes sense. But that means that our society as a whole needs to facilitate a frank and open discussion of what form the next evolution of books will take. It means hammering the dents out of our copyright laws and finally aligning them with the current level of technology. In my view, the music and movie industries failed to begin this discussion early enough. The creators of the music didn't get involved early enough. Now, if the writers' blogs I read are any indication, the authors seem to be more open to the discussion digital rights than their musical counterparts were. For all it's problems and ensuing legal entanglements, the Google Books settlement with the Author's Guild was evidence of this. The changes are happening now. The market is being created around us. In many ways it's being defined in the legal battles that swirl around Amazon and Google. Each decision creates the precedent upon which the next will be decided. Once there's a body of law, it will take something extrodinary to change it. The time to sort this out is now, while things are still in flux. Keeping the story in the realm of the reasonable mean, keeping the story from moving entirely to the fringes, and moving the debate forward toward a resolution is good for readers, it's good for the book industry (Amazon & Google included) and it's ultimately good for me. I don't bite the hands that feed me. But I do nibble the fingers once in awhile.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Her Majesty Thinks We're Illiterate?

I love a good book meme. You all know that. But the BBC 100 is a bit over the top for me.

When it first appeared on my desktop, I was an annoyed as anyone by the idea that the Brits thought I was a troll. If it was just a list of "Have you read these great books?" that would be one thing but the claim at the top that the "BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?" immediately struck me as... improbable.

That didn't stop me from filling it out too, of course.

I'm weak, what can I say?

The claim is followed by a rather eccentric list of 100 books. On some The Lion the Witch & the Wardrobe is listed separately from the series of which it is apart. There's never any Twain, but Harry Potter (as a series) and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy are always listed. (I like JK Rowling and Douglas Adams as much as the next guy but seriously?)

We will ignore for the moment that the entire Potter series is the best selling series in the history of publishing and that most Americans below a certain age will put a check mark by it, automatically bringing them above the alleged literacy threshold of six books.

This is sort of becoming a Facebook iteration of the urban myth and I think it bears addressing without wading into the comments threads for everyone's notes with what might come across as aimless snark and/or meaningless pedantry.

Here's the apparent origin of the list...

The BBC list was generated by a poll of Britons asking their favorite books. It is mostly pop-lit, but the resemblance to the 100 Books list is striking, with some 'highbrow' stuff appended in a seemingly random fashion. Note that they don't make any claims about Americans' reading habits, just these are Britain's favorites.

No matter how much I search neither I nor any of the others who've tried to track this down have succeeded in pinning the allegation of American illiteracy it to the Beeb. At some point - as is so often the case with these email and blog rumors - someone took an actual list or comment and appended a load of specious claims to it. In this case, they took this list of pop lit, grafted on some highbrow stuff and took advantage of our cultural inclination to feel inferior to the British education system.

By all means, fill out the list and let us have a rousing discussion of what's missing and what should be there and what should not. But don't blame the Beeb.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dear Amazon...

It just had to be Orwell didn't it?

I suppose it was inevitable that this would happen eventually. You've been quietly pursuing what was no-doubt the advice of a whole bevy of lawyers (what is the correct collective noun for lawyers? I'm going with 'bevy' until proved wrong.) and deleting copyright-infringing material and quietly rebating the purchase price. Illegal uploads of Harry Potter, Ayn Rand, and finally... Orwell.

It just had to be Orwell, didn't it?

This is the point where your legal rights and responsibilities under current law get annoyingly vague. And the issues too tangled for you to defend yourself without retreating into an impenetrable thicket of legalese. In many ways this isn't your fault. Our copyright law is a mess and simply isn't keeping up with technological advancement. Fair Use is undefined, as are Parody, Satire and a whole passel of exceptions and exclusions that one would hope would be clear as day. Your DRM policies weren't written on a whim. Lawyers were consulted, copyright law was parsed, and your Kindle End User Licence Agreement (EULA) was born.

You were simply pursuing the policies that we agreed to (whether we realized it or not). You wrote it in there; you told us this could happen. And America clicked the "I Agree" button as we always do. Because if we didn't, we couldn't use your gadget, couldn't keep our libraries on a hard drive and carry them around with us. 

And one day it happened -- as it was going to eventually -- you deleted something provocative. You gave the news directors of the world a hook. From a dry subject that no one wanted to cover or discuss or read about, you helped create a rallying point.

Each of the books had been illegally uploaded to your site using the Kindle's self-publishing option and people bought them. When made aware that the books were "pirate" copies, you took them off sale as you were obliged to do. But then you went a step further.

It was a bad idea.

It scared people.

It woke people up to the fact that they were actually renting their books rather than owning them. You scared the crap out of your customers and you angered many of them.

Good for you.

No, seriously, ultimately this is a good thing. For you and for all of us.

Let me explain. While some editors and bloggers resisted spinning out a scenario built upon the plot of the book, enough of them couldn't resist that it caught and then became the zeitgeist. It's a short walk from your copyright issue being resolved to government censors demanding the redaction of the printed record. A scenario with the thought-police come electronically knocking and banned books tossed into the oubliette of history, never to be retrieved.

It could have been worse, I suppose. It could have been Fahrenheit 451.

It's bad PR and probably bad for Kindle sales in the short term. And you really should give your PR people a seat at the table when you're discussing these things if you don't already. (And if you do, find new ones who are going to say "Um... let's let this one go.") But nonetheless, we really needed this to happen. And so did you.

That it surprised so many users is mostly a testament to the number of legal documents, service agreements and heaven knows what that we all sign every day without fully understanding them if we read them at all. 

And maybe what's really alarming people isn't the fact that you did it so much as the fact that you can. And as the diversity of our market expands with Barnes & Noble's competitor site introducing an e-Reader with the chops and price-point to compete, now is the time to get this out of the way. The music industry waited to have this discussion and it nearly gutted their industry. They still haven't fully recovered.

eBooks may well be the future of publishing -- for better or worse, they probably are. The definition of 'ownership' is up for grabs and readers are just now becoming aware that these comfortable notions are not fixed points in space.

This conversation was inevitable; I'm just thankful that it's being spawned now, not two decades in the future by a government-ordered redaction or some such truly 1984 scenario. It comes at a time when these things are still in flux. A time when we've yet to go too far to easily go back. I am glad that your actions brought this to the fore now and in the framework of an explicable and understandable act of copyright protection. Because of this, this largely abstract debate won't have to happen in the abstract. And the concrete issues that prompt it will add context and frame the debate.

We're awake now. And you woke us up whether you intended to or not. And in the long run, it's good for you and the industry that you currently lead. It's good for all of us because it's drawing normal people into the discussion. It's bringing people who are not dyed-in-the-wool partisans or legal wonks into a conversation about the exchange of ideas and the future of literary culture as well as the evolution of publishing. A dry debate just got more vibrant. Will it bring up the level of rhetoric? Probably not. Reasoned debate seems elusive in our polarized culture, but the addition of voices that don't come with preconceived notions attached may temper it.

Or at least force us all to speak in layman's terms.


Wordless Wednesday - Herbalist

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

You Ruined It!

Hollywood is chock full of milquetoast renditions of great books. I just read a thoughtful comparison between the movie Inkheart and the book by Cornelia Funke upon which it was based over at the book blog We Be Reading (the movie - though enjoyable - varies drastically in character and tone from the book). It was all handled delicately and she was most gentle when discussing the variance between the two, but it stoked a mental fire that I've been tending for quite some time.

What I appreciated most about Kristen's assessment of the two (book and movie) is that she never once implied that the one destroyed the other. Last night I watched the new Harry Potter movie and came home to finally read the reviews without fear of spoilers (though reading the books was spoiler enough, I suppose) and was surprised at the number of fans taking it to task for varying too much from JK Rowling's story and "ruining the book".

Yes things were deleted. And things were added. And people were shuffled. Can't say I minded much. And it certainly didn't ruin the book.

That's a complaint I hear and read a lot and I can't say I understand it. The list of books I've heard fans complain of being "ruined" by their filmic translation is seemingly endless and ranges wildly from James Bond to James and the Giant Peach. The popularity or critical success of the movie seems to stand somewhat apart from the reaction of the dedicated fans.

I have to admit that upon hearing that one of my favorite books will be set to film, I too sometimes find my teeth grinding. Why is that? No matter how far afield a two hour Where the Wild Things Are movie takes a 48-page children's book, the impact that this seminal book had on my life won't be undone. So why do we care so much?  

Bladerunner was an excellent movie that never got anywhere near Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Watchmen was simultaneously praised and lambasted for its adherence to Allan Moore's graphic novel. Yet classics by Dickens, Austen and God-knows Sir Arthur Conan Doyle have been endlessly made and remade without the pantheon of English Literature spiraling into oblivion... So why does my hair stand on end when I hear that a Neuromancer movie is in the works? It can't really "ruin" the book. Can it?

There are certainly movies I've seen that made me slink out of the movie theater wishing for a trick of Space & Time to allow me to go back and regain the hours lost. (A good argument for investing heavily in time travel research). And I'm sure many of them were based upon books, sometimes a mite too loosely. But did the 2002 adaptation of The Time Machine alter my perception of the HG Wells story? No. At most it ran afoul of the wholly-imaginary movie I've spent the last thirty years casting and re-casting in my head. Is that what's really being 'ruined' by these film adaptations? That's not really the same as ruining a book, is it?

I've been told by some that the mental impression left by film is stronger than the impression left by text. And while sounds somewhat plausible in our remarkably visually-oriented society, there's at least one interesting scientific study that seems to indicate that the reaction to scenes on the screen and on the page are essentially the same. If you follow that link above, you'll find a WIRED article about the scientists who determined that "what's disgusting on the screen is just as disgusting described in a book" -- ultimately the brain doesn't care if it's seeing it on the silver screen or imagining it from a passage of text. Is this the neural chemistry that's hampering the ability of some to differentiate between the movieplex and the bookstore? Is the image flickering on the screen overwriting the memories of the original story? Not for me.

My problem is that the idea implies that there isn't room on my mental bookshelf for the filmic adaptation of Coraline and the Neil Gaiman book despite the similarities and differences between the two. In the current climate books are transforming from ink on a page (or at least only ink on a page) to a picture on a screen, whether we're closing the gap between the two or they are already on the verge of overlapping is a bit of a debate.

For the nonce, I think that it behooves us to remember each for its charms, quirks and merits. Revel in the quiet elegance of the inner dialogue only possible in print, in the images that flicker behind our eyes as we doze off with a beloved book on our chests and don't confuse it with the communal event found in the darkness of a movie theater.

Make a movie. Write a book. Adapt one into the other. Heck, re-imagine Mystic River as a Broadway Musical. There is too much to enjoy (or revile) in any one format that I cannot help but regard each as a separate entity to be praised or damned on its own merits. The movie sits beside the book on my shelf rather than replacing it... or ruining it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Frank McCourt in memorium

Lawrence Block said it best: "It's not enough to be a genius Arnold, you have to be a genius at something." Yesterday, we lost a man who was truly a genius at something... he was one of those gifted souls for whom the English language sang a special song, for whom the alphabet danced like notes in a score. Writer, educator, wordsmith, Pulitzer Prizewinning writer of unforgettable memoirs and a master of his craft: Francis "Frank" McCourt died Sunday in a Manhattan hospice, reportedly of complications from Meningitis. Beginning with the harrowing tale of his coming of age in Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt killed us slowly and then revived us one-by-one. Breathed life into his past and through the eyes of his upbringing, shed new light into dark places. McCourt worked as a New York City school teacher for thirty years, eventually ending up at the famed Stuyvesant High where he taught English and eventually Creative Writing. In an April 2002 Op Ed in the New York Times, McCourt spoke eloquently of dragging these kids out of their middle-class stupor and into a world of stories. A world where everyone has a story to tell, no matter their background...
"I assured them that ''Once upon a time'' was good enough for the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault and even James Joyce. My students resisted. They were comfortable and middle class and everything was programmed and they were in this school because they were strong in science and mathematics. They would graduate from high school to the best universities and have no adventures because that's the way it was with their families. They had no stories to tell, and in their lives there was no once upon a time. They envied me my miserable Irish childhood and wished (almost) they could be poor so they'd have something to write about." -Frank McCourt New York Times 14 April 2002
I don't know how many of my readers are McCourt fans or how many fully realize the loss that our culture suffered yesterday with his passing. He was every bit the storyteller that Updike was, just in a different vein and a unique context all his own. I spent some time last night trolling through my books and the collected 'wisdom' of the Internet, looking for some exemplar of his talent, some tidbit of writing that I could point you to that would give you the measure of this man's genius with the language. I decided that you need to read all of it to really get the measure of him. However, you could do a lot worse than reading that 2002 New York Times Op/Ed I mentioned earlier. If brevity truly is "the soul of wit" as the Bard tells us, then this is proof. In the abbreviated eloquence required by the medium, McCourt lays out his educational philosophy, his wonder at how students inform the teacher and how to tell stories. Any story. If all else fails, tell a story about last night's chicken. Just tell your story. Thank you Mr. McCourt. For your words, for the thirty years you gave to the education of young minds. And thank you for the glimpse inside your life that you showed us, for reminding us that even the most deplorable of basic circumstances can be overcome.
"The last thing a writer needs is answers -- the end of thought and the dream. [...] Where are the dreams and fantasies of childhood? The heads of adolescents are clogged with media images and sounds. The teacher, then, is the Knight or Fair Maid of the Imagination and the battle lines are drawn. Pull the plug, cut off the juice, let the batteries die. Just sit there and dream. And when in doubt, tell a story." - Frank McCourt "REFLECTIONS ON CREATIVE WRITING CLASS: THE TEACHER; How to confront 30,000 words a week of teenage angst and ecstasy." Editorial. New York Times 14 Apr. 2002. 20 July 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sunday Comics

I was paging through the comics online this morning and realized just how much I miss Calvin & Hobbes. It's not that there aren't any laughs to be had in the comics anymore. There are a lot of very gifted artists and comedy writers getting their stuff out there online these days... but none of them are Bill Watterson. (In their defense, I think most of them realize this much as I realize that I'm no Cormac McCarthy.) I miss my daily dose of Calvin & Hobbes. The insightful look inside the inner world of a little boy and his only (stuffed) friend was like watching little snippets of my inner world play out each morning in the newspaper. A little boy who couldn't quite get his reality to sync with the world around him, who sometimes got lost inside his own head and had trouble finding his way out again... it all just sounded so daggum familiar. Sigh.

Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes, Dies

Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes, Dies You may remember that the other day I mentioned that he had pulled through his cancer treatments only to be stricken with meningitis. Alas, we have lost a giant. A great wordsmith, stylist and the arch-nemesis of the quotation mark... He will be missed.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

This is brilliant

Good comedy. There's a lot of Fake-speare out there and inspired works. Other than the Reduced Shakespeare guys and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead I've precious little to show for the time I've spent trolling for something good. This is a happy exception.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Kindle Return Policy?

David Pogue's Technology Blog at the New York Times reports how Amazon takes a book back. And they may not tell you before they do it. I'm talking about eBooks, obviously. I've read the DRM statements for the Kindle and this doesn't actually surprise me. This is allowed for in the Kindle Terms of Service. This is basicallt part of what I'm talking about when I say that the eBook paradigm is shaping up to become a "limited lease" agreement. In lieu of ownership (in the classic sense) of the electronic book you are agreeing to specific conditions under which you may keep it and under which the purveyor may take it back. Not only can they tell you if, when or how many times you can loan your copy to someone, they can remove it from your electronic library with or without your permission. They may have had good reasoning, that's not the point. It's about who owns your books.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - If Wishes Were Keyboards

(Sometimes altering your keyboard can be very therapeutic...)
More than a meme... every picture's a short story. Wordless

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Short Video

I ended up in a workshop today on "Multimedia (Video) Communication" in which we learned how to use and edit photos using the neat, but very rudimentary "Flip" camera and associated software. Honest, I was paying attention, but I was a bit fuzzy this morning (much like the first few seconds of this video). I guess this is what you get when you hand your participants the little video cameras before you start the workshop... at least I was able to stay alert. Come to think of it, this is a pretty accurate reflection of my writing process as well.

Random Thoughts On a Tuesday...

Some random things that have occurred to me on a cloudy Bastille Day that have nothing to do with Bastille Day.

Of Weddings & Shakespeare... The wedding was great. I was really nervous and sort of fumbled my way through the first stanza of the ceremony and then found my stride. It was a theme wedding so a lot of Shakespeare was in play. I sometimes wonder what the man would think of the many uses his words get put toward. A learned friend assured me that Will probably also re-purposed part of Sonnet 116 as a wedding toast at least once in his life. I find the idea reassuring.

Top Ten Lists The Times has published their top-ten list of best book sites. Those are truly some amazing sites. Most of them I was aware of, but one stands out as something I should have known about but didn't and takes its place at the top of my current list of "I can't believe I didn't think of that first". Bookcrossing. It's very much like geo-caching. Except you're stashing books rather than stuff in an ammo can. (Follow the links if you don't know what I'm talking about.) Bookcrossing is probably the best idea I've heard of in quite some time. Can't believe I didn't know about it before the Times cued me in. Oh well, it's a big internet. Just remember that books have their dignity and when they are leant, tend not to return of their own accord. (I think Umberto Eco said that or something like it...)

Keyboards... I periodically get mad and modify my keyboard by pulling out keys (especially when I keep fatfingering the numlock key on the tenkey pad) or using masking tape to modify what the keys do. Am I the only one that does this? It's very therapeutic. I sometimes take pictures of it when I do that. Maybe that would be a good "Wordless Wednesday" post. Hmmmm...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

An ever fix-ed mark...

I've been taking time out of my novel (and this blog, forgive me) to help a friend write a wedding.

I love writing weddings and this is the second nuptial outing for my pen. The first was my wedding to Kristin, of course. Though I was thankfully spared writing the sermon on that one.

In a word: nervewracking*.

If I write a passage for a short story that falls flat, the worst that can happen is that it doesn't get published. If I write a bum wedding, I ruin a good friend's "Most important day" and am branded forever thereby. It's fun and nerve-wracking at the same time and gives me all kinds of respect for the ministers and JOP's who write wedding homilies twice a week. (Not to mention the authors who manage to write decent schmaltz-free romance fiction).

When you're writing a wedding you get to say things that you normally cannot get away with in most genres of modern literature. You can freely speak of Romance and Destiny and the symbolism of the rings and grains of sand and the stars in the sky and the leaves on the trees. You can quote from Shakespeare at length and play merry hell with Sonnet 116 and A Midsummer Night's Dream. In short, I can say all the things that I don't get to say in other places because it's a wedding and the speeches and toasts and the entire ceremony are verbal bunting for the moment the rings go on the fingers.

Writing a wedding is strangely similar to writing a scene in any book, or on any stage -- it's hard to forget that this scene is actually more important to the participants than to the author. Which isn't something you can say if you write fiction... not if you're sane anyway.

This is the one time in the lives of most people that they do any stage managing, that they tell their friends and loved ones where to stand and what to say. And like any scene in a novel or play, the crux of the scene must be served by all the words around it. The aim and goal of every word, of every quote and prayer and unity candle -- every facet of the ceremony exists to build up to that moment and make that one moment the climax of the entire day. The rings going on the fingers and the sniffling newlyweds being fed their lines by the officiant must stand alone.

A wedding ceremony should be a happy meeting between the actor and the act and it should be the ultimate expression of the writer's skill in setting a scene and building toward the denouement.

This wedding ceremony was a collaborative effort between myself and the happy couple. They created an outline of the ceremony they wanted with their vows and words to one another and that set me free to work primarily on the prose and pacing. Slow this down and speed that up, add and subtract so that it would make the right people cry at the right times.

Until I say the words aloud tomorrow, I can only hope that I succeeded (though the bride cried when she read it, which is probably a good sign**).

I wish you a most happy and wonderful wedding day, Marissa and Charles. I was there when you met, and watched you fall in love. Which argues that you should know better than to put this kind of faith in a fool's pen. I hope that my words can in some small way encompass what you feel and not get in the way or provide any impediment to the marriage of your true minds.


* Well, I say it's one word and it's my blog.
** I hope

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cheaper Kindle-ing

Amazon Lowers Kindle E-book Reader Price - Seattle Times Lowering the price is good. Increases accessibility and indicates that the "laws" of competetive pricing are starting to take hold. But with the Sony eReader on the shelf at every Target in America, will a $60 price reduction help the Kindle that much? Or is Amazon really beyond reach of the brick & mortar competition? It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The refusal to release sales figures puzzles me, though.

Wordless Wednesday - Erosive Forces

Monday, July 6, 2009

Nancy Pearl - Action Librarian!

Seattle (and indeed all of Western Washington) is blessed by the presence of super-librarian Nancy Pearl. (Seriously, she has her own action figure!) We hear her on our local NPR station (KUOW) so often we sometimes forget her national stance as a literary taste-maker. These are her summer picks from NPR. Things like this remind me why I send a check to NPR once a year. If you're not sponsoring your local public radio provider, why the heck not?

The Thing About Charlie...

I occasionally spend some time ghosting over on Book Blogs at the Ning. Even though book reviews aren't really my main 'thing', I like to see what the book reviewers are talking about and there's always something fun going on over there.

 Over the weekend, the subject of Dickens came up: Is he still relevant

Notwithstanding two recent books spun from the stuff of his final (and unfinished) novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood, it's an open question. Dickens thus-far seems to have been skipped by the renaissance being enjoyed by other classic authors such as Jane Austen. So... does he need an infusion of post-modern zombies to bring back the readers? Or is he already just another zombie author refusing to shamble off to the churchyard and a peaceful afterlife confined to the shelves of English Lit professors, destined for a messy end on the killing fields of postmodern lit crit?

The main trouble with Charlie is that he was made victim of his own success. So many see elements central to his plots as cliche (Orphans? Wicked stepfathers? That is SO overdone!) but what Dickens did was not cliche -- it was made cliche by endless repetition from the pens, typewriters and laptops that followed him. It's a mental space that a reader needs to get themselves into before embarking upon any of the classics.

This is doubly-true of Dickens, whose plots and twists and characters have become so indelibly woven into modern fiction. His ideas and plots and characters have been endlessly plundered by nearly everyone because his voice was so persuasive that he set the bar that we're all trying to clear. Not long ago I was reading a music critic talk about the number of bands whose entire catalog and careers could be summarized as "Variations on one song from the Beatles' White Album". (I'll have to find the article so I can quote and attribute accurately). So too could many more authors and screenwriters be summed up as churning out endless variations on the source material drawn from Dickens. Some of it has been amazing, epic tales built upon a 'Dickensian' and some of it should remain nameless and fade from our minds. Regardless, the quality of imitation does not strain the strength of the source material.

In a time when optimism is oft times treated as though it were a contagious disease, perhaps the inveterate optimism of Dickens' characters can't catch hold upon the modern mind. Perhaps the moments of astonishingly-modern wit are too weighted with the passages of florid Victorian prose. I tend to disagree. Dickens' voice was so modern and his wit was so sharp that we can still hear ourselves in it.

Still don't think he's relevant? I think he's so relevant that the biggest publishing phenomenon ever doesn't make sense until you view it through his works. There has been no more profound reflection of this influence than Harry Potter. The boy wizard aside, this is a time of literature cast in the light of Hemingway, awash in the blood of a million murdered adverbs. Yet, despite Rowling's cinder-block sized tomes, often grandiose prose, and sweeping tales, even books that are meant to appeal to her audience are pared down and scaled back ever more as writers and publishers chases an allegedly dwindling attention span. Have our attentions really so dwindled, though that we're in need of a zombie incursion into the classics to renew the spark of literature that has aged? I had a love-hate relationship with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. And I fear however, that this is going to spawn a trend of duct-taping postmodern monsters into classic tales until it devolves into an Abbot & Costello movie.

In my opinion, P&P&Z only worked because of a brilliant blend of two gifted writers (Austen and Grahame-Smith) hundreds of years apart and it took off because the readers were primed by the Austen renaissance (and in case you've been living in a cave, zombies are kind of a thing right now).

Maybe it's for the better, this mashup culture. If nothing else, before we're ready to receive Little Dorrit Versus the Zombie Debtors of Doom, we'll need to reacquaint ourselves with Dorrit's creator.

However, I'm thinking of shopping around a story about a zombie antihero escaping a zombie-infected prep school to bum around New York for a day. He'll have a thing for ducks, wear a funky red hat and spend a lot of time trying to eat the brains of the prostitutes in he meets...  Just kidding, Mr. Salinger. Just kidding.

But I think you should write down the date and time you scoffed at the notion of Zombiecatcher In the Rye.  Because at this rate, it almost seems inevitable.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Taking the weekend off...

This weekend's my birthday so I'll be celebrating my birth (and my nation's birth) by taking the weekend off. Go out and have some cake and wave some sparklers and I'll see you all again on Monday! (If any big publishing or technology news breaks over the weekend... tell them to leave a message and I'll get back to them.) Hooray! Huzzah!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sailing the Bounding Main

Pirate Bay -- the notorious harbor for online filesharing fans -- has been acquired by Global Gaming Factory, also of Sweden.

The acquisition comes in the wake of the legal battle that ended recently with the captains of the Pirate Bay spending a year in the brig and dolling out millions in fines and legal fees. The sale of the site comes hot on the heels of their announcement of a planned video site called VideoBay that promised to operate without the copyright restrictions. This would mean an end to the takedowns that so bedevil many of the folks on YouTube who want their vids to have a soundtrack (with unlicensed music) or share other protected video content (such as television shows). Today's LA Times story lays out an interesting business model for the new iteration of the site that would bring them in compliance with copyright laws by selling spare bandwidth.

Read the full article here (click) or by clicking the link to GGF above to read the press release about the acquisition. While the harbor may be closed, the Pirate Ship has sailed. The copyright battles of the beleaguered founders of the site inspired the creation of The Pirate Party, a political party operating on a platform of "decriminalizing" all online file-sharing. They usually couch this in terms of protecting online privacy and it's a movement that hasn't died with the company that inspired it and doesn't look likely to after winning parliament representation in Europe.

Personally, my inner war is ongoing, inevitably coming down in favor of both sides assuming a mantle of reasonable discourse in lieu of the war we find ourselves in now.

On the one hand, it seems to me that the Pirate Bay was a bad idea from the word go. The idea that they could insulate themselves as neutral site-operators and escape prosecution for aiding and abetting by claiming they just owned the building where the alleged crimes were taking place... well it seems rather naive considering the luck others (like Napster) have had trying to shield themselves with the same arguments.

On the other hand, draconian "Digital Rights Management" often forgets or ignores that it was the word-of-mouth sharing of great and inspiring music and literature that created the industries that are now so hellbent on snuffing out what made them great.

In many ways, the overreaction of MPAA and the RIAA have built the house they are desperately trying to knock down.

As a copyright holder, I understand the frustration felt by others whose work has put food on someone else's table and I understand the lashing-out that can ensue. Likewise do I like to think that there's room for reasoned response and discourse. There has to be a middle course through these shoals where the artforms can prosper and spread by word-of-mouth without making it so that artists simply cannot support themselves by their efforts.

The all-or-nothing fervor of the extreme agents of both camps seems to be all that gets airplay. But somewhere between hanging pirates and letting them rampage there has to be a happy medium, a way to coexist. A place where I can lend a digital book, movie or song to a friend without coming under fire from the shore guns of the legal system.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Holden Caulfield - Eternal Youth

US District Court in New York found in favor of JD Salinger in the copyright lawsuit being waged to stop the publication of an unauthorized sequel to Catcher in the Rye. The author's lawyers re-cast the work in court documents as a "critical parody" for the sake of slipping through the fair-use provisions of US copyright law, but the judge said "No".

Wabbit Twacks

I was going to write about "Fear" today. The trepidation that you feel when you near the end of a big project, the fear of failure, the anticipation that gnaws at you as you send a part of yourself out into the Big Bad World to live a life of its own. 

Then a friend of mine posted something on Facebook that demanded my brain shift gear slightly and view this fear from a different perspective... the perspective of a cartoon character.

My friend, we'll call her El, is nearing the end of grad school, achieving a Doctorate in one of those wonderfully obscure disciplines of computer engineering that make the internet work. Esoterica of the digital realm. One of those things I'm glad someone is doing but wouldn't want to do myself. Like law enforcement and experimental physics.

This crossroads naturally raised all the same specters that I feel at the end of a big writing project or assignment and she voiced her current situation in terms of Loony Toons characters: Wile E Coyote and Bugs Bunny. One is the genius who has no intuition and the other an intuitive genius. One seeks no advice or help and perforce fails every time, and the other is frequently lost but knows it and asks directions.

It's a lovely and vivid description of someone at a turning-point in her life. And how unfair that someone should be so expressive and gifted in the esoteric disciplines of the digital and the literary at the same time. I'm not sure what kind of advice I can offer her that would be germane in such pursuits.

So I too turned to the Sage of the Silver Screen, Mssr. Bugs Bunny. Like any good sage, most of his lessons are timeless and you should find them germane whether you're an English major or one of them science people. Mac or a PC, Bugs is the original cross-platform app.

I often refrain from offering advice. I believe that opinions are like underwear: Everyone is expected to have a set, keep them in good order, and not show them to anyone unless they are asked (and then do so with discretion). As often as not, advice-giving is a matter of re-voicing something the recipient already knows anyway. Most often, we need our own advice more than we need the opinions of others and it's up to our friends to tell us this. This morning, El reminded me that we all need to be less coyote and more rabbit, to remember the advice of our favorite fearless hare, reflecting back to us the things we should already know...
  • Don't look down, just keep running,
  • Pronouns will get you into and out of more trouble...,
  • If you don't know the lyrics sing anyway,
  • If you do it, you'll get a wuppin' (but you should do it anyway),
  • Always keep a disguise and a getaway plan close at hand,
  • When in doubt, quote Groucho,
  • We are most often defined by our enemies or what we stand in opposition to,
  • If you've got someone right where you want them, the last thing want to do is give them a chance to talk,
  • Size is irrelevant, tenacity and guile win in the end.
As ever, she put the coup de grace (or as Bugs might say, the Coop d'Gracie) on my little list...
  • Kiss everyone - It wins friends and annoys enemies.
Because there's no offense like a good smack on the lips from a rabbit in drag. If that doesn't get you over the mid-week hump, then I don't know what will.