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Monday, December 22, 2008

Book Ends

More chatter about the end of the publishing industry showed up in the Los Angeles Times yesterday in this article written by Tom Engelhardt.

The article updates a lot of similar articles that this site has linked to and discussed in the past with new information about recent layoffs and cutbacks in the industry. So in some sense, it's a traditional "Here lies the publishing industry" piece. However, one new bit of insight is Engelhardt's commentary that the book has resisted the presence of advertisements more effectively than any other print media:

This, in our world, has to be considered some kind of unnoticed miracle. Yes, early books sometimes had quack medicine ads in them and, for years, certain paperbacks had ads for other books (by the same publisher) at the back, but the book largely resisted the ad. Even after publishers began wrapping book covers around anything from movie novelizations to material that had once been confined to "police gazettes" or Hollywood fan mags, the ad still -- against all logic -- stayed away.

Now that is interesting. And even at the expense of the industry, I hope the ad continues to stay away from the novel.

Thanks to the many people that drew my attention to this article.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Reading as a Memory

In a recent interview with Jacket Copy, the Los Angeles Times literary blog, National Book Award finalist Salvatore Scibona, author of The End, says about reading:

For me, ideally, a novel should be read slowly, in some version of solitude, in a state of willfully suspended disbelief, while alert, with a lot of sympathy to spare, while warm, in a room without too much unnecessary light, while one is 16 years old, lonesome, lovelorn, while there's something else one is supposed to be doing, late at night, hoping a certain person will call; and she doesn't call.

That simple but clear description made feel for the sixteen year-old boy reading in the dark room. It made me feel like I was him.

More importantly though, it reminded me of my own reading memories: a rare overcast day, curled up in the reading corner I'd carved out of my childhood bedroom, beside the window, my grandparents' red down comforter in various states of wrap over and underneath me, alternately reading and praying for rain. To this day, that memory is exceptionally strong for me. The way it felt, the way it smelled, the feeling of satisfaction in the reading.

That is where I fell in love with reading, and it is an experience that is long lost to me. As I continue to read, I will create new reading memories that will also be a part of my passion for books, but none will ever rival that first.

What about you? Do you have a memory of reading, more powerful than all others?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Now That's What I Call Success

At Barnes and Noble the other day, I begged Sven (To Make a Long Story Short) to snap this pic for me on his iPhone. It's a little blurry, but you get the idea. An entire wall of the Twilight series, floor to ceiling. And had his camera phone wide screen capability, you'd see two more panels of shelves on either side.

Needless to say, I was stunned.


The End Has Come.... Somewhat

The Tribune Company, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday. I'm not at all surprised. Not only because of the current economy, but because the weakness of the Los Angeles Times, and other print media, was a topic of discussion on this blog back in July.

I can't save the Los Angeles Times. It should be able to save itself. It is a pulitzer prize winning brand, and I am convinced that if they begin to think of themselves as a news and content provider instead of a newspaper provider, they will be able to refocus on what parts of their company they need to rebuild and expand to get revenue flowing in the right direction. As we've been saying on this blog for months now, publishing will survive, we just need to reimagine it and change our expectations.

So I won't say that this is the end of print media, or the end of the Los Angeles Times.

It is, however, the end of 2008, and like the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times released their 2008 Favorite Books list. I particularly like that they sectioned out Science Fiction, Children's Fiction, and Crime Fiction - a nice way to draw some deserved attention to those genres - and took the time to actually explain their selections. Check out their various lists here.

Though I have to ask, can someone please explain to me why "Books" are categorized in the "Living" section of the website, along with "Health" and "Autos" among others, instead of "Arts/Entertainment?" Los Angeles Times, if you're going to start fixing things, that might be a place to start.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Before You Shop...

Well... I have to admit... I still have two gift cards to the book store. I know, I know. I've been pestering you all for help and still can't make up my mind! While I appreciated all of the suggestions, notwithstanding Lesbian Erotica (I'm looking at you Prince, Sven), I still haven't stumbled on that paperback I'm excited to read.

So if you're anything like me, it might be wise to prepare yourself before heading to the bookstore for some shopping where the broad scope of options may dazzle you into paralysis.

Thankfully, the New York Times Sunday Book Review is doing its part to help. Check out their recently released 10 Best Books of 2008. While none of these books appear to be out in paperback, they just might make the perfect holiday gift you've been looking for.

As for me... I'm still searching for that perfect purchase...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Roswell vs. Twilight: BATTLE ROYALE

Way back in August, I wrote this post about the similarities between Twilight by Stephenie Meyer and the old TV show Roswell that used to air on the WB and later UPN. That single post has drawn more readers from web searches than any other post from this entire year. Clearly, I was on to something.

Today, Mike Moody over at the TVSquad (cheers, Mike) went up with a side by side comparison of the Roswell series and the Twilight movie. Check out his excellent post here.

While I have been very hard on Twilight on this site (this was my original review of the book) I do think there is something encouraging about its smashing success. According to Box Office Mojo Twilight raked in a near $70 million on its opening weekend, a bigger opening than Quantum of Solace the most recent James Bond effort. That's some big money.

Why is it encouraging? Because it demonstrates, yet again, that young women have buying power and that they are a demographic worthy of the attention of publishers and studios alike. And for someone like me, a writer of fiction with a decidedly female bent, that is nothing but good news.

I still hold that the comparison between Roswell and Twilight simply reveals the formulaic foundation upon which they are each built. And it's to that formula, the teen love rescue gambit, that I attribute the success of both. Women (and pre-teens, tweens, teens, whatever) enjoy a good romance now and again, and if you combine that with some creativity, and some quality writing (hopefully) you're increasing your odds of success in that market.

So who is the winner in the Roswell/Twilight showdown? Well, I know which way I vote, but the bottom line is, we all win.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Act 1 - Light Your Story on Fire

There is so much housekeeping to do in Act 1, that once you're writing, it's easy to forget that you still have structural work to do. You have to establish your characters, you have to establish your setting, and you have to establish your tone. So before you even get to that point, let's take a look at the outline and see what needs to be done in the framing:

Act 1
-Inciting Incident

The Inciting Incident is the very first event that begins the series of events that will make up your plot. It is the spark that starts the fire. Without it none of the events that follow would ever have occurred.

In a murder mystery, which is the simplest example, the inciting incident is the discovery of the body. In Field of Dreams the inciting incident occurs when Ray hears a voice ("If you build it, he will come.") in his cornfield. In Star Wars: A New Hope the inciting incident is Luke's discovery of Leia's urgent message.

How is the inciting incident different than the plot point at the end of Act 1?

If the inciting incident is the spark, the end of act one is the first gust of wind that turns your spark into a fire. It builds on the inciting incident and propels your reader forward with a clear sense of the story's direction.

At the end of act one, your reader should know the overall plot of the story and the goal of the main character - whether it's find the killer, build the baseball field in the corn, or rescue Princess Leia, your reader should have some sense of which direction the story is moving. Of course there will be twists and turns - your story would be boring without them - but at the end of Act 1, your readers should at least see some of the path ahead.

In Field of Dreams the inciting incident is the first time Ray hears the voice, but Act 1 ends with his choice - his choice to plow under his corn and build a baseball field, his choice to follow the direction of the voice. In Star Wars: A New Hope the inciting incident is Luke's discovery of Leia's message, but Act 1 ends only after the death of his aunt and uncle and his decision to go with Obi-Wan to rescue Leia. If it were not for the death of his aunt and uncle, Luke would not be able to leave the farm. Their death is the plot point that propels him forward and allows him to pursue his hero's quest.

As you think about your inciting incident, don't think of it as a burden or something mechanical that has to be in place. Instead, think of it as your first opportunity to engage your reader. When you're sitting down to write your query letter to an agent, this is the moment you're going to describe. This is what happens that RIPS your main character from his normal life and THRUSTS him into something unusual, something that makes your reader want to join him for the journey.

When the first invite to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry arrives for Harry Potter, it's the first letter he's ever received - AND IT WON'T STOP COMING. That's the level of build and excitement that should be your goal as you think about your inciting incident. And your Act 1 plot point should be as loud and declarative as the pounding of Hagrid's fist on the door of a small shack in the middle of a storm. Let that be your inspiration as you sit down to your outline and think about your story.

So now you have your fire. Next we're gonna turn it into a blaze.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In Defense of Outlining: Raising a Barn Begins With a Frame

It's really simple - if you don't frame your barn first, you may later discover a weakness in the structure, and before you know it, the roof is caving in. FRAME YOUR BARN.

Stories are no different. At some point in school, your teacher taught you about the three act structure, and as you progressed as a writer, maybe you took more classes or learned a bit more, but somehow you picked up a few more terms:

Act 1
-Inciting Incident

Act 2
-Rising Action
-The Turn

Act 3

If you've written a first draft of your book without having at least a general sense that you are hitting those beats, you may have a problem. Let me tell you, it's easier to fix a structural problem with your story in outline form rather than tens of thousands of words.

You may be wanting to argue with me right now that storytelling shouldn't be a paint by numbers affair, that plenty of writers have manipulated the three act structure to serve their own purposes. That's very true. None of those writers are you. Until you have successfully mastered and understood the three act structure, you're not in a position to invert it.

Over the next few days, I'm going to break down the three act structure in detail. Outlining makes your story work for you, and understanding story structure can help get you out of a bind when you're stuck.

Let's take a look at that frame before we get to our barn raising.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Gift Card Dilemma: Too Many Books, Too Little Money

I have a $10 gift card for Barnes & Noble.

I'm all caught up on my guilty pleasure series.

I want to buy Anathem by Neal Stephenson, but I want to try to keep to the paperback books.

Anyone have a suggestion? Something out in paperback that I absolutely MUST read?

Friday, November 07, 2008

And Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

I have a confession: Writing has not been my number one life priority as of late. Which is essentially my way of saying that I have not been working on my writing.

How terrible of me! This is National Novel Writing Month, and not only have I not accepted the challenge, I have already wiled away the last two weekends, not to mention blowing off the entire month of October.

My engine is stalled and it looks like I'm gonna need a jump.

That makes this the perfect opportunity to share some ideas on how to get yourself back on the writing track and building momentum again:

1. Brainstorm - Get back into your project by investing time exploring your characters and the world they inhabit again. Work on descriptions, details, imagining new scenes and conflicts. As you open yourself up to the possibilities of your story, new ideas will form and you'll turn up something to get excited about again.

2. Jump Ahead - It seems logical that you would need to write a novel in a linear fashion, but if you're following along with an outline but struggling to build momentum, a jump ahead might be the perfect solution. Look for the scene that you're most excited to write, and then dive right in. By moving forward in the story, you may actually reveal an idea that you want to use earlier on in the book, and that will give you a motivation to go back to the beginning and start plowing ahead.

3. Set Aside a Time and Place to Write - We say this time and again, but nothing could be more true: sometimes you just need to sit down and do it. Putting yourself in a comfortable place with a good block of time that you're devoting to writing can be really helpful to get you back on track and back in the writer's vein. Writing, after all, is just as habit forming as exercise. Push yourself to do it over and over and someday it will just stick.

4. Writing Exercises - If none of the above is working, try setting out just ten minutes of time for a quick writing exercise using your characters. Imagine your protagonist trapped in an elevator. How does he get himself out? What does he think about while he's there? How does he relate to the other people trapped with him? Little exercises like that can be less intimidating than trying to work on the whole project, but sometimes all you need is to get the pen flowing again.

Anyone else with ideas?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Have Books, Need Love

In the most recent episode of Valentine over on the CW, an already canceled show about the Goddess of Love (don't ask me why I watch these things), Peter is reminded just how much he loves his wife Xan... because he loves books. And in a very bookish turn of events, love is rediscovered when the corporate shackles of big box sellers are tossed aside for the truly romantic life in an independent bookstore.

Ah... now that is love.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Do You NaNo?

On your marks... get set... GO! NaNoWriMo has begun!

It's November 1st, and that marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month.

The ten year history of NaNoWriMo actually began in July of 1999 when 21 friends in the San Francisco Bay Area challenged each other to write a novel (50,000 words) in one month. The goal was not to write something of quality, but to focus on the quantity. Complete an entire novel in just one month!

Now settled in November, NaNoWriMo attracts many participants who spend every spare moment of the month working on their novel. Participants track their progress on the NaNoWriMo website and share frustrations and words of support with fellow writers.

Focusing on completing a novel in such a short period of time is a great exercise as a writer. It teaches you to push through blocks, and to minimize bad habits such as the tendency to edit as you go. Sometimes you just have to spit out that first draft, then see what you have to work with. Too many times, writers get tripped up on their way and lose all momentum. NaNoWriMo is all momentum. Just let your fingers and imaginations fly.

So what do you say? Anyone out there working on a November NaNoWriMo novel?

Friday, October 31, 2008

While the Campaign is Being Waged...

Here's a little something to tide you over until Wednesday, November 5th when writing will replace campaigning as my number one priority:

An interesting article from the New York Times about life imitating art - Following the Script: Obama, McCain and 'The West Wing.' Read it here.

In the meantime, I encourage my American readers to confirm your polling place, and make sure you schedule enough time in your day to vote. For my Californian readers, I encourage you to Vote No on Proposition 8 and Proposition 4. Links go to the Los Angeles Times Editorial endorsements for both of these positions.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Writer's Block

Yes, that is a pencil.

More Than a Story/More Than Words on a Page

Crack open those calendars and check your availability because starting tomorrow, REDCAT is holding what they are calling a two-day conversation about writing, Untitled: Speculations on the Expanded Field of Writing. If you haven't heard of it, REDCAT is CalArts multipurpose theater venue located at the back corner of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

Some of the events of the next two days will include discussions about inclusions of non-alphabetic characters in writing and the relationship of conceptual writing to conceptual art. Guest speakers and panelists include Kenny Goldsmith (Soliloquy, 2001) and Young-Hae Chang of Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries. For a full list of events, please check out the conference schedule and information page here.

And speaking of Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, if you haven't heard of them or seen their work, I recommend that you check it out here (warning, NSFW). They are a Seoul-based art-duo who bring new meaning to the idea of flash fiction.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Water Glass is Half Full

The sky is falling. I'm not sure if you've noticed that, but it is. It's crashing down around us, harder than the falling stock market, deeper than gas prices, louder than shouting political analysts, and faster than melting polar ice caps. The sky is coming down, and I, for one, have been in a duck and cover position for the last few weeks.

But last night I had a phone call with a friend that had me laughing so hard my cold-afflicted lungs gave new meaning to the phrase "whooping cough." And that laughter made me feel better than I have in weeks, and eventually sent me off to sleep with unusual feelings of warmth and happiness.

These are some serious times, so it's easy to forget that sometimes the best way to cope with life's curve balls is a complete lack of seriousness.

Over on Living the Romantic Comedy, blogger Billy Mernit has followed that theme in his last couple posts, including his most recent review of Mike Leigh's new film Happy-Go-Lucky, beginning with the powerfully declared statement: If there's anything I've learned in my short time on this planet, it's that when you lose your sense of humor, you're toast. Read the rest here.

Of course, Billy was not the only writer discussing humor recently. Yesterday on NPR's All Things Considered, Shalom Auslander, author of Foreskin's Lament, talked about his favorite bed table book, which happens to be The Groucho Letters: Letters from and to Groucho Marx. In Auslander's words, Groucho is ideal protection against all things overly serious:

On that same small table, there are also books of philosophy, theology and a few that have been blessed enough to qualify as "Literature" (the qualification process is brutal, with a $50 nonrefundable Literature Application Fee and a 17-page questionnaire that must be notarized by James Wood). These books approach life and its myriad questions with seriousness and focus, and after just a few pages, they make me want to kill myself. Which is why Groucho is never far away; I can't do an hour shot of Beckett or Carver without an unstiff Groucho chaser.

You see, I've long been of the opinion that life is too serious to be taken seriously, and if that is my religion, then Groucho is the pope.
Even with recent events seeming particularly dark and dire, those who make their living on comedy have certainly been taking advantage of the opportunity to find the ridiculous in the serious, case in point, the recent resurgence in the quality of political satire over at Saturday Night Live.

There's a great scene in Sullivan's Travels (1941), a Preston Sturges film about a director who wants to make a movie about the struggles of the common man. To research for the movie, he strikes out on the road posing as a hobo and after a series of mishaps he finds himself a prisoner on a chain-gang. In the classic scene, the director and the rest of his beaten and weary fellow prisoners are treated to a showing of a comedy cartoon in a church. And as the movie rolls, the director looks around and sees something that startles him... the prisoners are laughing.

So the sky may be falling. Harder than the stock market, deeper than gas prices, louder than shouting political analysts, and faster than melting polar ice caps. But I tell you what. I'm sure as hell going to find a way to get my laughs as it comes crashing down.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Textual Inspiration #10

And then the sandy scrubland was domesticated by farm life. Overgrazed fields were dotted with cows, their withers shriveled and papery, their lowing desperate. An emptiness settled in the farmyards. Once Glinda saw a farm woman standing on her doorstep, hands sunk deep in apron pockets, face lined with grief and rage at the useless sky. The woman watched the carriage pass, and her face showed a yearning to be on it, to be dead, to be anywhere else other than on this carcass of a property.

- From Wicked by Gregory Maguire

Monday, October 13, 2008

Spreading Germs One Post at a Time

An entire week has gone by and I haven't posted, but I assure you all, I'm still here and planning lots of great literary posts soon. I've just been a little busy with a few things:

Being Jewish.

Being an Obama campaigner.

Being a good employee.

Going to the movies.

Having a cold.

So I'll be back soon, don't delete me from your bookmarks yet!

And uh... make sure to wash your hands after reading this post... I just sneezed on the blog.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

For Those Who Like Poetry

Compliments of a good friend, I bring you this beautiful article, The Poetry of Sarah Palin by Hart Seely, from Slate.

A sample:
"Befoulers of the Verbiage"

It was an unfair attack on the verbiage
That Senator McCain chose to use,
Because the fundamentals,
As he was having to explain afterwards,
He means our workforce.
He means the ingenuity of the American.
And of course that is strong,
And that is the foundation of our economy.
So that was an unfair attack there,
Again based on verbiage.

(To S. Hannity, Fox News, Sept. 18, 2008)

Monday, September 29, 2008

The State of the World and Me

One of the things I love most about books is the escape that they offer from the world. I've written before about disappearing into a comforting children's book when times get tough. There is a reassuring simplicity of morals in children's books that reminds me as an adult that not all problems are so complicated and nebulous. In children's books the difference between right and wrong is clear, and usually right wins the day.

With American events being what they are recently, and my sensitive and opinionated nature, I've found it difficult to write for this blog about books and publishing without feeling a little bit beside the point. Of course life will go on, and things will not always be quite so dreary, but in the meantime I'm struggling to keep my outlook positive, and not let the nattering nabobs of negativism get me down.

This morning it was time to begin reading a new book as Wicked by Gregory Maguire had been finished last night. However, as I went through my "to-read" stack all of my literary options seemed so depressing. Why does the literary genre have to be the genre of tragedy and cynicism?

The book I finally grabbed for my bag was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I've never read it before, and yet I having a nagging doubt about whether it will be the pick-me-up I need. I'll give it a crack at lunch and see how it goes.

But what say you, readers? Can you make me a recommendation? A book that will carry me away? Can anyone give me a book that can stop me from feeling like the world is coming to an end?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Visual Inspiration

La Catrina by Sylvia Ji. See more of her art at her website, and buy prints here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Award Shows: They May Be Boring, But They Could At Least Have Class

Some of you may remember (and may already be members of) an organization I formed at the beginning of the summer: PAPAL (People Against Passive Aggressive Language). Well I'm pleased to inform you that so far, PAPAL has been a success! Talk in my office has gone from passive aggressive to just plain aggressive. My co-workers have dropped the niceties of "please" and "thank you" and go for the jugular with every shirk of responsibility.

In light of PAPAL's success, I am now tackling a new and pressing issue in the state of our world. CAP: Citizens Against Patter. For those of you that don't know, "patter" refers to the asinine bits of dialogue that presenters read at awards shows before actually presenting the award. You've seen it a million times - hot supermodel and ugly-but-funny comedian are called to the stage to present the Best Mute Junkie award, but before they get to it, they read an awkward exchange off the teleprompter about what projects each of them are there to shill, or about the honored history of the Best Mute Junkie award.

Well I'm here to declare it once and for all: PATTER SUCKS. It has zero entertainment value, being neither funny nor remotely entertaining. It leaves the well-coiffed presenters looking illiterate or awkward at best, and slows the pace of a show down to a crawl.

Of course, once the show is "running behind," (the chronic award show condition), producers are forced to cut parts of the program that might actually be interesting, for example, clips of the nominees that justify their nomination. Very few award show viewers have had an opportunity to watch every single show that has received a nomination, and sampling them through clips can be entertaining. But that sampling never fails to disappear towards the end of the show, when the most important awards are being given... unlike the patter... which simply won't die.

Look, Awards Show Producers, it is simply not okay to play music over our greatest actors, directors and writers on the night that they are being honored. It's poor manners to hustle Glenn Close off the stage while playing music over her, or to discombobulate Tom Hanks by flashing a "wrap it up" on the teleprompter after 30 seconds. It's really quite rude.

Of course, the solution is simple: If you don't want your awards program to include acceptance speeches, don't give out awards. Then you can give the audience what you seem to think they want: an awkward, well-dressed variety show.

I hope you'll join me in CAP's efforts of ridding the world of patter. There is a lot of work to be done, but if we organize, I believe we can save the Oscars just in the nick of time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Break Out the Shoe Polish, Furniture Polish, or Whatever Polish - It's Time to Submit Your Stories

Alright kids, we've spent the summer working on our novels, fretting about the state of the publishing industry, blogging about how hot Michael Phelps is, but the summer is drawing to an end, and now it's time to start getting out there again. With our fiction of course.

The 12th Annual Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction contest is open with a deadline swiftly approaching on October 1st. You can read about submission guidelines here. This year's judge will be Elizabeth McCracken, author and teacher at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Compared with other contests, this one has a shockingly fast turn around with winners scheduled to be announced on December 1st. That makes the contest rather appealing, considering you're not tying up your best story in six months of consideration.

So how do you go about polishing your story for submission? Here are some suggestions on how to make polishing painless:

1. Ask yourself the big questions - It's tempting to polish a first or second draft story, especially a story that hasn't been workshopped or critiqued, and then decide that it's ready for the big show. But instead of rushing its adolescence, ask yourself the tough questions:

- What is this story about?
- Are all of the elements of the story in service to the main idea?
- How does the main character change at the end of the story? Or what is their act of non-change?
- Is that change revealed by an action or an active decision, or is it revealed in exposition?
- Is the tone consistent?

If you have trouble answering any of those questions, you probably need to take the story to a new draft. Not just a polish - a draft.

2. Read your story aloud -
Reading aloud helps to reveal any lingering awkward sentences or phrasing. Smooth those out. Don't be afraid to really get in there and rearrange your syntax.

3. Scan backwards for typos -
Try this to outsmart your brain: read each sentence forwards and then backwards. Reading backwards allows you to take each word on its own, and stops your brain from mentally filling in blanks or correcting mistakes. Remember, spellcheck is not infallible people.

4. Do not let anyone read it -
With less than two weeks to polish and submit your story, this is not the time for outside comments, which may make you feel uncertain or discouraged. Use and trust your own judgment. Hopefully you are submitting a third or fourth draft story that has already been read and critiqued by trusted writer friends.

Feel free to share your own polishing tips in the comments. Good luck everyone!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Textual Inspiration #9

Inspired by all this talk of Neal Stephenson, and in honor of the release of his new book Anathem, I give you this selection:

He did not realize until a couple of years later that this question was, in effect, the cornerstone of their relationship. Did Juanita think that Hiro was an asshole? He always had some reason to think that the answer was yes, but nine times out of ten she insisted the answer was no. It made for some great arguments and some great sex, some dramatic fallings out and some passionate reconciliations, but in the end the wildness was just too much for them - they were exhausted by work - and they backed away from each other. He was emotionally worn out from wondering what she really thought of him, and confused by the fact that he cared so deeply about her opinion. And she, maybe, was beginning to think that if Hiro was so convinced in his own mind that he was unworthy of her, maybe he knew something she didn't.

Hiro would have chalked it all up to class differences, except that her parents lived in a house in Mexicali with a dirt floor, and his father made more money than many college professors. But the class idea still held sway in his mind, because class is more than income - it has to do with knowing where you stand in a web of social relationships. Juanita and her folks knew where they stood with a certitude that bordered on dementia. Hiro never knew. His father was a sergeant major, his mother was a Korean woman whose people had been mine slaves in Nippon, and Hiro didn't know whether he was black or Asian or just plain Army, whether he was rich or poor, educated or ignorant, talented or lucky. He didn't even have a part of the country to call home until he moved to California, which is about as specific as saying that you live in the Northern Hemisphere. In the end, it was probably his general disorientation that did them in.

- From Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Monday, September 15, 2008

Evolve or DIE

It seems to me that there has been a lot of chatter amongst interested parties - including this blog - about how the publishing industry is in some sort of death spin. Everywhere I turn, there are articles and discussions attempting to take the publishing industry's blood pressure, and then bemoaning the weak result.

Recent case in point - an article in New York Magazine by Boris Kachka, "The End." The article is both illuminating and disturbing, presenting the usual business view, as well as a look back at the history of the industry and an insider angle which is not often shared with outsiders like me.

Yet, I come to the end of the article feeling terrified. Terrified of the ominous threat of Amazon, terrified of the impending doom of Borders, terrified of the unknown future of technology.

Here's the thing: the publishing industry has to change if it wants to remain an industry. It has to figure out a way to increase its profit margin, to expand, to keep selling its product in whatever form is actually going to sell.

But me, I don't have to change, I just have to change my expectations. Even without the promise of a fat advance, or an earned out royalty check, or a coveted spot on the best seller list, I have faith that there will always be writers. They'll do it for the love of the art, for the love of sharing their story. They'll find partners in technology, people who support them, read them, believe in them.

And whether or not anyone is making any money, I'll still be here reading.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Neal Stephenson is Scary, But I Still Love Him

I have mentioned on this blog before that I don't generally read the same author more than once. I'm a slow reader, so I try to expose myself to as many different authors as possible. That said, there is one author that I've read more than others (as the title of this post suggests) and that is Neal Stephenson.

Stephenson's books are dense and difficult, often weaving complex scientific concepts into the story, but they are also adventurous and funny, populated with characters that I enjoy spending more than a thousand pages with. Stephenson is definitely not for everyone, but he is certainly for me.

Jacket Copy, the Los Angeles Times literary blog, recently posted an excerpt of an interview with Stephenson that will be included in a larger profile to be printed later. You can read the interview selection here.

Even if you're not interested in the interview, check out his scary publicity photo. Neal, your writing intimidates me all on its own. You don't have to go scowling at me.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Water Glass Roll Call: What Are You Reading?

I've been moving at a faster clip than usual with my reading recently, largely due to the fact that I read when I'm procrastinating writing. It also helps that I've been reading light books that keep me page turning. I'll find any excuse to get my book out of my bag when I'm reading a good book, even if it's just to occupy me during a short elevator ride.

I recently finished Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. I've never read any of his other work, but I knew this children's book was highly praised, and that sparked my curiosity. Having found quite a bit of delight in Louis Sachar's Holes, I thought I might repeat the experience of reverting to childhood in a similar way. And indeed, I did. Hoot is a well written adventure for children, with a good sense of humor, and a knack for capturing life's small moments of illumination.

Now I'm onto Wicked by Gregory Maguire, which is not at all what I expected. It is more inventive and imaginative than I anticipated, though I confess that having never read the L. Frank Baum originals, I don't have the original text with which to compare it. I have only Judy Garland's ruby-heel-clicking version in mind.

So, a few questions for you:

What did you last finish reading? How did you like it?

What are you reading now? Is it what you expected? How do you like it so far?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Someday You Too Can Have a Signature Play

Stumbled upon this humorous piece in MonkeyBicycle entitled Signature Plays of the Literary Field by Shayn Nicely. My favorite signature literary play from the list:
Pulling a King: allowing film adaptations of your work to not even remotely resemble the material, making shit up as you go along
Read more of MonkeyBicycle here.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

It's Only Crazy When You're Wrong

Sometimes real life events unfold like one of David E. Kelley's wacky courtroom dramas. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's priceless.

A friend recently sent me a link to an article from the Sun Journal of Maine, detailing the story of JoAn Karkos, 64, who refused to return a book she had checked out from the Lewiston library after determining that it was inappropriate for children. The book in question? It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health
by Robie H. Harris. The contents of the book seem self-explanatory, but in fairness I think the customer comments on the book's Amazon page perfectly capture the disparity of opinions over the book's contents and why there might be cause for some objection.

Unfortunately for Karkos, who first attempted to buy the book before refusing to return it, this is not a legal means to removing it permanently from the library. So the city took her to court to get their book back.

The Sun Journal article, written by Christopher Williams, hilariously recounts some of the courtroom drama. Hilarious to me anyhow:
[Judge] Stanfill ruled that Karkos had violated the library's policy and ordered her to return the book. The judge asked Karkos where the book was.

"I have it in my possession," Karkos said. She paused, then repeated that general answer each time the judge pressed her. Finally, Karkos said she had the book with her.

"Then return it right now," Stanfill said.

"I'm going to hang onto the book, your honor," Karkos said. Stanfill advised Karkos she could be held in contempt of court if she refused to comply with a court order.

"Please return the book," the judge said.

"Your honor, I cannot return the book," Karkos said after a pause.

"I am ordering that book be returned today," Stanfill said. She told Karkos she would have to stay in the courtroom until she gave up the book.
Karkos, it appears, was prepared to go to jail to protect the children of Lewiston from the contents of that book. According to the article, Karkos admitted under cross-examination that she was informed in a letter by Library Director Rick Speer how to formally challenge the book, but in her words, "I knew I didn't stand a chance."

As much as I disagree with Karkos' position on this book (I am decidedly against book banning of almost any kind), I have to respect her gumption. We are a culture that seems to admire civil disobedience only when we have the clarity of hindsight, when history proves the act noble. In the present, acts of civil disobedience take true courage, a focused purpose, and absolute conviction of one's beliefs. Though I find humor in the way she faced down a judge and refused to hand over a book, I also realize that it's not an easy thing to do.

According to a follow-up article in the Sun Journal, the city of Lewiston has given up their demands to get the book back and are requesting a $100 fine. So Karkos will not be jailed over her refusal to hand over the book, but in my opinion, that she was willing to is something to admire.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Textual Inspiration #8

Lewis Rothschild: ...People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.
- The American President by Aaron Sorkin
We've been drinking the sand for too long now. It's time to drink the water.
Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.
That's the promise of America — the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.
- Barack Obama, August 28, 2008

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Speaking of Giant Corporations Taking Over the World...

...Amazon bought Read about it in Publisher's Weekly.

Shelfari, if you've never heard of it, is what I would call the book nerds' social networking site. The site allows you to log all the books you've read, are reading, and want to read; allows you to rate and tag your books; provides a forum for discussions and discussion groups about books; and it provides you widgets for your various social pages/blogs. Please see my side bar of books for an example.

Here's the thing about Shelfari - I don't like it. The discussion forums are poorly designed and almost impossible to use or follow so I've long since given up participating in the one group I joined. The site also has annoying mouse sensitive features that pop up windows whenever your mouse rolls over a book cover. Not long ago when they introduced their "design" changes, they simply rolled out changes in the way your Shelfari shelf would appear. Do you want your shelf to appear as oak or mahogany? Who cares?!

I keep up my Shelfari account only for the widget (the one previously mentioned on the right) and also because I like keeping track of all the books I've ever read. I'd like to think that I am the target audience for Shelfari, being a book buying nerd, and yet, it simply doesn't work for me.

So in a way, there's a secret part of me that's hopeful about Amazon's purchase of Shelfari. Perhaps some actual user friendly function will be introduced to the site. Maybe there will be some useful discussion about literary things. Or perhaps the site will simply be optimized for better book hawking.

It's also notable that Amazon not long ago bought Abebooks which, according to the Publisher's Weekly article, controls 40% of Shelfari's competitor LibraryThing. I've never used LibraryThing, which might offer some improvements on some of the function failures of Shelfari, but I have no idea. Does the future hold consolidation of these two sites? An answer can't be that far off.

In the end, I think the founders of Shelfari have gotten exactly what they wanted: They built a site with just enough gloss and minimal function to build their membership and now they've sold it for what I hope, is a tidy profit. Cut and run, my friends. Cut and run.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Shopping Independent - An Open Question

A little while ago a friend sent me a link to IndieBound, an organization that unites and supports independent booksellers in the U.S. One of the site's features is that they offer bloggers the option of becoming an affiliate, which means that when I discuss a book, I could link to the book through the IndieBound site to help readers purchase it from bookstores in their neighborhood. This is similar to the partner program that Powell's Books offers that I've seen on other friends' sites. In this way, I would be helping to encourage people to buy their books local, instead of linking to Amazon's page or any other multinational bookselling chain.

The question that keeps coming to mind is why? Why is buying from independent bookstores better than buying from multinational chains?

This is one of those values that a lot of people take for granted as obvious. Of course it's better to buy from small shops instead of big companies! Corporations are evil! Aren't they?


On the homepage of the IndieBound website they list three main reasons for supporting independent booksellers: The Economy, The Environment, and The Community. And they cite a couple of statistics and make a couple of claims, none of which I would consider to be particularly strong arguments.

For example, according to the site, "Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43." But does it naturally follow that this is better for the economy? If instead you were to support a publicly traded company, doesn't that help the overall national economy, creating more jobs nationally and improving the economy for everyone? With an almost pure arts background, I don't have the answer to that question, I'm simply skeptical enough to ask it.

So here are a few questions for you to chew on:

1. Do you think it's important to buy your books from independent booksellers rather than multinational chains? Why or why not?

2. How do you think shopping independent supports the local economy? The national economy?

3. How does shopping independent support the publishing industry? The same or different?

4. How does shopping independent support writers? The same or different?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic - any of the questions or none - I'm trying to learn from our collective wisdom.

Friday, August 22, 2008

I Don't Have a Title Yet...

...but I've got the first 500 words of a novel written. I know it isn't much - especially compared to my blogger friend Stu's 70,000 word count (I hate you, Stu) - but it's a good solid start, and one that I'm over the moon happy with. I was never even certain that I had a book length story in me, but it's finally feeling like maybe I do.

So I'll be slowly chipping away at that word count, moving my story along. After all, every book gets written one word at a time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

GRUDGE MATCH: Barnes & Noble vs. the Olympics

Barnes & Noble reported its second quarter financial results today, and in no surprise to me, sales are down. The report largely blames America's weak economy for slipping sales. You can read about the report on Reuters.

However, there is also an article on Yahoo! News regarding the report, and something buried way down in the text caught my eye:
"Barnes & Noble also said it received less store traffic during telecasts for the Olympics this month."
I couldn't find this confirmed anywhere else in a cursory search, though I think the reason for that is it was reported on a webcast conference call of B&N's senior management this morning, the transcript of which you have to pay $39 to download. I appreciate each and every one of you readers, but I have no intention of paying $39 to confirm a very odd comment in a Yahoo! article.

I know marketing executives make a living drawing correlations like that - oh yes, all of our customers are simply watching the Olympics, too distracted by sports to even think about book browsing - but sometimes they just make me laugh.

I've been enjoying reading about the Olympics more than I've enjoyed watching the Olympics, mostly because I'm never home when the good Olympics coverage comes on and instead I keep catching random qualifying heats and early round matches of badminton.

I did, however, catch Usain Bolt's crazy fast 100 meter dash. Now, that would solve Barnes & Noble's Olympic troubles - if we could all run as fast as Bolt, we could be off to the bookstore at the starting gun of the commercial break and be back on the couch with our brand new books in time for Bob Costas to say "Welcome back to Beijing."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lounge Chair Reading and You - A Water Glass Special Summer Report

I never understood why some books were considered "Beach Reads" as opposed to "Everywhere Else Reads." After all, a book is a book is a book. No matter where you read it, right?

Of course, calling a book a "Beach Read" is really just a marketing term to help sell books at airports, creating a need amongst summer travelers. Ooh! I'm going to the beach, but I don't have a book! Better buy one. But is there something to reading a lighter, frothier book while on vacation?

As one who has recently returned from a fantastic summer weekend in Las Vegas, let me tell you there is definitely something to be said for having a light read on your vacation with you. This weekend, the book I was reading had to compete with this view from my poolside lounge chair:

Not to mention all the good looking scantily clad male and female specimens passing back and forth (sometimes wet!) in front of my view. So even though I had a very light book with me, I still only managed a paragraph or two during the two hours we were doing our lounging. I refuse to blame the book though. It was entirely my fault. I was distracted by a delicious iced tea, the ever approaching hot desert sun, perfectly timing a dip in the pool, and eavesdropping on my neighbors.

Instead, I finally managed to take a bite out of the book on Sunday when my flight home was delayed nearly three hours. Were I to have more poolside time, I swear this would be the perfect book:

Strangers in Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts' Sci-Fi/Mystery pseudonym) is book #26 in the In Death series that I have been reading since a good friend turned me onto them in college. The books are funny, romantic, and with just enough mystery to keep me turning the pages, though I don't recommend starting the series in the middle. The books have settled into a definite rhythm, following a murder investigation as led by Lieutenant Eve Dallas of the New York Police Department circa 2060, and populated with a funny and enjoyable cast of supporting characters. I pepper my reading with these books, because they are easy reads, a welcome break from some of the heavier denser books I tend to select for myself, but most importantly, because I always want to spend 400 or so pages with Roberts' delightful and compelling characters.

So yes, there is such a thing as summer reading, but don't ask me to read it only during the summer time. How boring would that be?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

It's a... a... a Research Trip! Yeah, That's It. Research!

The blog is going to be a bit quiet for the next few days as I am heading off for a trip to Las Vegas!

Oh, Las Vegas! That sparkling jewel in the desert! That oasis of air conditioning! That bastion of excess! Global warming be damned, the city of sin calls to me!

But don't let my gambling and carousing fool you! Oh no, this is purely a research trip. I will come back recharged, and full of notes! Notes on... on... gambling and carousing!

So though you may miss me, take heart in the fact that I will return Monday, prepared to share with you all the many insights my research trip has brought me.

Farewell, dear readers! I promise not to come back married!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I've Got Twelve Minutes to Make a List

So here ya go...

Five Books That Should Not Be Made Into a Movie:

1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

3. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

4. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

5. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Monday, August 11, 2008

Attention Luddites: The Internet is Here and It is Not Going Away

A couple weeks ago, I read an interesting article in the New York Times about literacy in the wake of the internet age. The central question of the article is whether reading online is as valuable to building reading comprehension skills as reading in the more traditional way.

The article raises some interesting points, on both sides of the issue, including referencing the discouraging report on national reading trends, To Read or Not To Read; A Question of National Consequence, that was published by the National Endowment for the Arts in November 2007. I call the report "discouraging" because it documents a marked decline in the reading habits and skills of young Americans in just the last 15 years. The full report can be viewed in PDF form here, and it is fascinating.

It seems only natural that experts would be looking to the rise and expansion of the internet as a factor in the decline of reading comprehension skills. As pleasure reading amongst children decreases and time spent on the computer increases, it's fair to ask the questions, what kind of reading is being done on the internet, and what is its value?

The New York Times article profiles a couple different youngsters, including one who prefers reading anime fan fiction online to reading books. If you're a writer, especially in the young adult market, and you haven't perused, you need to take some time to check it out. The writing featured on the site is entirely user generated, and the stories have wildly inconsistent levels of grammar, punctuation and coherence. So much so that while you might be encouraged that a young person is at least finding somewhere to read online, you can't help but ask yourself if what they are reading isn't equally important.

That said, I don't dismiss reading on the internet as a whole as useless. In some ways, reading on the internet builds a different kind of comprehensive skill, one that no doubt will be a necessity in the not-too-distant future, as this generation, raised on the internet, becomes adults.

The question that I keep coming back to is that as a writer of traditional literature, how do I address the changing way that people are reading? Is Amazon's Kindle the answer? Or is that just another way of serving traditional literature in a different way?

So let me ask you: How can we rethink storytelling in the internet age?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Wait... I'm Not the Only Writer in Southern California?

The Southern California Independent Booksellers Association recently announced the 2008 Book Award Finalists. Nominated by booksellers, these books represent the best of what California writers have to offer, capturing the unique voice and spirit of the region.

And it is with pleasure that I offer congratulations and best of luck to fellow blogger and sometime visitor of this site, Billy Mernit, whose book Imagine Me and You is one of this year's finalists! I've had Billy's book for a couple of months now (and prominently displayed to the right since its purchase) but have finally had the chance to dive in. Imagine Me and You is a delightfully light read (so far, at a hundred pages in) with a "champagne-like fizz" to borrow an amusing phrase from the author himself.

Congratulations Billy!

Monday, August 04, 2008

Textual Inspiration #7

Speaking of YA fantasy fiction I do like...

With swift ease of animals they ran, the long lean man and the sturdy boy, an urgent loping running that took away their age and all sense of familiarity in their appearance; faster, faster, faster. And at the rocks ending the headland they did not pause, but went on. Will leapt up light-footed to the crest of Kemare Head and cast himself outwards into the air, into empty sky, arms spread wide, lying on the wind like a bird; and after him went Merriman, his white hair flying like a heron's crest. For an instant the two dark spread-eagled figures seemed to hang in the sky, then with a slowness as if time held its breath they curved downwards, and were gone.

- From Greenwitch by Susan Cooper
Book three of The Dark is Rising Sequence

A Doff of the Cap

I know I've been a little hard on Twilight by Stephenie Meyer on this blog in recent posts. I really haven't meant to beat up on her work. It's more that her book has me thinking a lot about formulaic writing, the importance of characters, the importance of editing, and a thousand other book writing issues.

However, I do want to take a moment to acknowledge that Breaking Dawn, the most recent of the Twilight novels by Stephenie Meyer, sold 1.3 million copies in its first 24 hours of release, according to AP. In the current book market, that is cause for cheer and congratulations. Any book or series that gets that many young people (and adults) reading is okay by me.

So, congratulations to Stephenie Meyer on her success, and thank you for helping to create young readers for the rest of us writers out there!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Roswell vs. Twilight: A Teen Love Showdown

Ever since reading Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, I've been thinking about teen romance novels (which is what I think that book is ultimately) and how they bring in readers with simple twists on the same old formula. I'm not against formulaic writing. Sometimes telling the story a certain way just works, and there's no reason to reinvent the wheel each time an author sits down to write. However, I do think it's a good idea to bring something new to the table - whether it's character or setting or rules of the world.

Last night, I stumbled upon the pilot episode of an old teen show I used to watch in college called Roswell. What blew me away is how within the first five minutes of the show, it accomplishes the same thing that Meyer accomplishes in the first 100 pages or so of her book. They open with almost the same exact plot beat, and yet for my money, the Roswell opener is significantly more moving and certainly more efficient.

If you've read Twilight and have the time, take a look at this clip and let me know what you think.

Sorry about the ads - one of the internet's necessary evils.

* This post has become one of the most popular posts on my blog, and I'm thrilled about all the comments I've received and the active discussion about the comparison between Roswell and Twilight. In December, I posted again about the comparison and the success of the film. Please feel free to check out that post here.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Are You Excited? Cause I'm Excited!

Normally, I find myself disappointed with screen adaptations of books. I think I can count on one hand adaptations that I've actually liked independently of the original written material (Holes, A Room With a View.) And in the reverse, the list of adaptations that I've hated, films that have killed the rich material that they are intending to bring to life, is significantly longer.

Occasionally though, something takes me by surprise and just works in a way that I wasn't expecting. It's been my pleasure to enjoy the Harry Potter movies in concert with the books over the last few years, but for me, only Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was entertaining in a way that a complete movie should, and was better even than the reading of the book itself.

Or perhaps it was simply my childlike awe and giddiness over the magical dueling that the filmmakers exploded off the page and onto the screen that has me desperate for more.

Whatever the reason for my admiration, let it be known that I can't wait for NOVEMBER!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Devil Wears Suede

I confess to watching very few reality TV shows. However, one of my favorites is the popular Project Runway on Bravo, which has recently begun its promising fifth season. I doubt you're very interested in hearing why I love the show, and since it hardly relates to this blog, I'll say simply that I enjoy all things artistic, and fashion design is some very crafty art.

What is of interest, however, is that blogger friend Nevin has recently launched his very own response to Project Runway, which he is calling Project Run(A)Way: A Hater's Perspective. With his usual snarky brand of humor, Nevin deconstructs every episode from start to finish in order to unravel what he considers to be one of the greatest TV mysteries: why do people like this show?

Project Run(A)Way is updated every Wednesday night after the West Coast airing of the show - so make sure you're up-to-date when you check it out.

Make it work, people!

It's a Water Glass JINX!

I make one little Los Angeles earthquake reference last week and it's almost like I made it happen. As I'm sure most of you know by now, at 11:42AM yesterday there was a 5.4 earthquake in Southern California. BEHOLD the power of language!

The quake is being described as moderate, but I think it can better be described as a good solid shake. For those few of you who have never experienced an earthquake before, I'll try to describe it with a bit more detail.

Sitting at my desk on the 18th floor of a 30 story building, I first heard the sound of rumbling and the windows creaking, immediately followed by a slight shake. Almost all earthquakes begin this way - mild sound and shake - at which point you have a split second to decide whether the quake will be big or small. Yesterday the decision was made when I went diving beneath my desk like it was hiding a secret portal to safety. Duck and cover, baby.

Now the fun part. The entire building started to shake; a 30 story steel and glass structure and it felt like the floor and the walls were giving way. It's similar to the sensation of a big rig truck passing too close to your home or a subway passing beneath the sidewalk just under your feet. Only much much more so. With your whole body you can feel the instability of the building around you, because it's not just the building, it's the ground beneath it. And equally unnerving is the loudness of the shaking. In Los Angeles, most of the buildings are designed to sway with an earthquake. Have you ever seen a tall palm tree bend back and forth in the wind? Yeah, it's like that. For 20 very long seconds. Nu, our accountant, was clinging to the floor beside the copier, screaming her head off in an endless cycle of "oh my god!"

Then finally it stopped.

I crawled out from underneath my desk, and thought maybe I had done it a bit too early, only to realize that the building wasn't shaking anymore, it was me. For a couple of nervous moments we all stood around discussing if we should evacuate the building, and joking about finding transistor radios even though the power was still on and the internet was still working perfectly. Then, as if by silent acknowledgment, it seemed clear that the building would remain standing and we all went back to work.

It's been at least a decade since Los Angeles has been reminded that we live on the razor's edge, or more accurately, the edge of the San Andreas Fault. For those of us that remember the 1994 6.7 Northridge Quake - a powerful shaking that had me clinging to my bedroom doorway for fear of literally being thrown free - the Chino Hills Quake pales in comparison. But it still forces us to face down our own mortality, to recognize that as wrapped up as we can be in our development deals, power lunches, and traffic jams, the earth beneath our feet may have very different plans for us. Because in Los Angeles, you're only as secure as the next big earthquake.

Unfortunately I could not find the source of the photo on the internet, so to the unnamed photographer, I thank you.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Snuffing Out the Twilight

Well I'm sorry to say that my verdict is in on Stephenie Meyer's Twilight and it is not positive. I didn't care for this book at all.

As I mentioned previously on this blog, I found Meyer's prose to be bland and simply serviceable. The choice to write in first person narrative seemed to be one of ease rather than driven by the story itself. Nothing was revealed or informed by the first person narrative. Instead it tortured me with the narrator's incessant glowing admiration of her love interest and pages and pages of rumination on her feelings.

In fact, I was inspired to create the Twilight drinking game: If you ever have the opportunity to attend a reading, bring the alcohol of your choice with you. Every time the narrator describes something as "beautiful" take a swig. I suggest you arrange a sober ride home. You'll need it.

I accept that this book is geared towards, and is clearly successful with, girls half my age. However, I don't accept that the prose or storytelling in YA books has to be mind-numbingly mundane. In fact, Meyer really shines when the plot is actually ticking forward. Unfortunately the ratio is approximately 100 pages of plot to 300 pages of feelings. And yet, the narrator's feelings rarely change. At all.

A friend told me recently that Meyer is planning on rewriting Twilight from the point of view of the love interest/vampire. No real shock to me. When I finally finished the book, it immediately occurred to me that his journey was infinitely more interesting than the narrator's.

I strongly believe that YA prose can be simple and clear for young readers, but still possess the nuance that makes stories compelling and memorable. My favorite example is The Rain Catchers by Jean Thesman, and in the supernatural category, I'm delighted to recommend anything from The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper.

Needless to say, I will not be reading any more books of this series.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

L.A. Times Earthquake: Shaking the Foundation of Literary Life in Los Angeles

For the last few years, the Los Angeles Times newspaper has been seeing a decline in circulation, a decline that is likely mimicked across the country amongst even the best of old school print media. The newspaper has been making its own news; a takeover, and then massive and highly controversial staff slashing.

The most recent in a growing list of casualties is the Sunday Book Review, a weekly stand alone section of the paper dedicated to literary features and reviews. The section has been a part of the Sunday paper for 33 years. According to Publishers Weekly, the Sunday Book Review is scheduled to see its last issue this Sunday.

I've had many discussions with friends about the changing nature of news reporting and media sources in the internet age, including some who have themselves been victims or refugees of newspaper downsizing. I don't have a magic solution to this problem. I myself am not a paper subscriber, just a paper leech, stealing the Sunday Book Review section from my office paper first thing on Monday morning. Also, I confess to being an avid N.Y. Times Online reader, where I can click just the stories that interest me.

However, it strikes me as odd that the current tactic to fight the declining circulation is to subtract value from the paper, instead of to add to it. Friend to this site Molly's recently posted an open letter to the Times that thoughtfully addressed how the paper can increase their revenue and better integrate their online presence.

I could wax on here about what Los Angeles loses with the end of the Sunday Book Review, but I think it is much more elegantly expressed in this letter to the editor written by four former editors of the Sunday Book Review:
Angelenos in growing numbers are already choosing to cancel their subscriptions to the Sunday Times. The elimination of the Book Review, a philistine blunder that insults the cultural ambition of the city and the region, will only accelerate this process and further wound the long-term fiscal health of the newspaper.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Discovered this fantastic piece via Antoine Wilson's blog and decided that I had to share it. From what I've discovered, it looks to be the work of an artist named Tom Gauld whose work, among others can be found here. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Click for a larger, slightly more readable size.

Friday, July 18, 2008

10 Songs I Don't Want to Hear on the Radio

Over the past five years, Los Angeles radio has been in a state of flux. New stations have been added to the dial, and old standbys have been extensively reformatted. So, in an unusual foray into music, I thought I'd try to offer my assistance to the various radio stations as they try to find their footing.

10 songs I never want to hear on the radio ever again (in no particular order):

1. "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" by Lenny Kravitz - He is not, nor was he ever, the new Jimi Hendrix. The guitar riff repeats ad nauseam on that track, without an iota of the emotion and skill that Jimi had. Leave it in the vault.

2. Anything by the Steve Miller Band - Was there a time when people actually liked this band? These songs seem like they were written specifically for television commercials. Enough already.

3. The Counting Crows' cover of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" - It's a travesty.

4. "Moondance" by Van Morrison - No, it is not a marvelous night for a Moondance. Try scratching the surface of an album.

5. "Jack and Diane" by John Cougar Mellencamp - This is not the Midwest, people. This song does not inspire any nostalgia in us hardened urbanites.

6. "You Spin Me Round" by Dead or Alive - No. Just no.

7. "Informer" by Snow - This song is not even cool in an ironic way. Let's pretend like we never played this in Los Angeles.

8. "Don't You Forget About Me" by Simple Minds - We've never been given the opportunity to try to forget this song it plays so often. All together now, let's move out of the 80s.

9. "Brown Sugar" by The Rolling Stones - I don't care if you think this is the most amazing song ever written, The Rolling Stones have been writing music for almost five decades. Can we please, please, please play another of their songs?

10. "Come Sail Away" by Styx - This definitely takes the cake for being the longest most annoying song ever written.

Honorable mentions: "My Heart Will Go On" by Celine Dion and "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston - Thankfully, I don't often listen to the stations that play those songs, so I'm spared, but I'm sure there are romantic radio listeners out there who would be thrilled if both those pledges to eternity would come to an abrupt end.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Past, Present, Future

No, I'm not going to write about tenses. Not yet, anyhow. Instead, I'm just going to tell you about my recent book selections.

I just finished reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, which you might have guessed as I recently quoted a selection from it for a Textual Inspiration.

I really enjoyed this book. I love Chabon's use of language. At times when he's describing something, it seems like he's trying to make me feel something instead of see something. That's not ground breaking, of course, but it was novel to me and has me thinking about descriptions in a different way.

The book I'm reading now is Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. I'm about 200 pages in and a little underwhelmed to be perfectly honest. Sure it moves fast, but the language is completely serviceable, and the main character spends quite a lot of time talking and brooding about her feelings. I suppose books are the medium of feelings, and in particular a first person narrative, but considering the popularity of this book, I was expecting more. So far it feels very uninspired - not any better than The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause, or In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. I'll continue to push through, and hopefully will have a change in opinion as I continue and the plot thickens.

After Twilight my options are aplenty as usual. I have piles of unread books in my apartment. A selection that I can think of off the top of my head follows below, and if you have any recommendations from it, I'm all ears:

- Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
- Underworld by Don Delillo
- Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber
- Wicked by Gregory Maguire
- Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Any thoughts?

Monday, July 14, 2008

F-Bombs Away!

I was recently reading an article about the Emmy nominations this year that briefly and superficially explored the divide between the network shows and the premium cable shows. It posed the question of whether or not the premium cable networks, which are unhampered by FCC (Federal Communications Commission) regulations on obscenity broadcast standards, have an advantage over the networks.

I think the most obvious distinction between network shows and premium cable shows, and the one that impacts me the most as a writer, is that premium cable shows are allowed to curse.

'What about tits and ass?', you might ask. Sure, it's nice that a director has the freedom to do a full frontal on their premium cable television series, but sex and physical intimacy, as with violence, can often be more effective in the implication. Not so with cursing. And if you need an example, I need only refer you to the most recent installment of the Die Hard film series, Live Free or Die Hard, in which the most famous line (among other butchered dialogue) was edited to fade out: Yippee-ki-yay, mother---

David Shore, creator and producer of the Fox Television show House said about cursing, "If I could have one change, it would be to have 'fuck' be one of them. But we manage to do all right anyway." (I think it's interesting to note that the publication that originally printed that quote edited the word "fuck" to "f---." I've changed it back.)

It's happened often that I've been preparing to submit my short fiction to a publication only to discover that they have an obscenity restriction on curse words and my story does not. That leaves me with a quandary: do I change my story to fit the publication or do I maintain the integrity of the story and submit elsewhere?

Being challenged not to curse in a story can lead you to greater creativity. In Joss Whedon's Sci-Fi television series Firefly the characters often curse in what seems to be a future amalgamation language heavily influenced by Chinese, and often use the word "gorram" as what seems to be a bastardization of "God damn." (Unless there are some Whedonites out there who can correct me.)

No matter what the rules of your intended forum of publication, you may find yourself asking the question as you write - how much cursing is too much cursing, and what is appropriate? Ultimately, this really is a personal choice, but you should consider some factors:

1. How big of an impact do you want your curse words to have? There's a reason why on television and radio "fuck" is known as "the F-bomb." It's because it slips past censors so rarely that when it does come through it explodes like a bomb. The less you use the curse words, the greater impact they'll have.

2. How do your characters actually speak? This is something that you should really take time to think about, because though cursing maybe more intense and common in certain cultural subsets, it still may not be as prevalent as film and television shows would have you believe. If you can, watch some documentaries, go to the neighborhoods, LISTEN LISTEN LISTEN.

3. How will it affect your audience? When the HBO series Deadwood first aired, it garnered a lot of attention for the amount of cursing in the program, and there's no question it turned off some potential viewers. What do you want your readers to talk about - the creative cursing, or the great story and characters?

4. Can you say it another way? When I want to soften the impact of a character's curse, I often omit the direct quote and instead refer to it in narrative summary: Lillian threw her hands up in the air and shouted an oath towards the sky.

The most important thing to remember is that cursing should not be an abused element in your story. It should be organic and should not draw attention to itself (unless you intend it) and should be used as any other writing tool in your kit - with thoughtfulness and precision.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Misdirection: The Busy Blogger's Best Friend

I have been working on some very complex and interesting posts for you all (I swear!), but unfortunately my home internet has been out of commission since Tuesday, and now suddenly an entire week has gone by and I haven't posted anything new!

So I'm taking this opportunity to draw your attention to a couple of the blogs on my sidebar which have been silently added within the last few months that I think you might enjoy:

I have to open with The Nevin Barich Blog Experience. I often find myself trying to repeat pieces of Nevin's blog to friends over dinner, and it just doesn't go over nearly as well as Nevin pulls it off himself. He makes me laugh every single time.

Next up, we've got And to Make a Long Story Short. Primarily a movie review blog, posts tend to cover films currently out in theaters and with a sense of humor to boot. Not to mention, cough I'm sometimes with blogger Sven when he sees the movie cough.

Happy surfing! Be back soon!

Monday, July 07, 2008

John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt - That's My Name Too!

Today I received the excellent news that there is a new addition to my big extended family, as one of my cousins has had a baby girl! As the baby's chosen name spread like wildfire along the family communications lines, it had me thinking about what a name can provide for the developing character of a child, and what it can mean for a character that you as a writer are creating.

I could easily have titled this post with the famous Shakespeare quote, "What's in a name?" After all, your character is your character regardless of the name you choose to pair it with. However, there's no denying that some names carry a certain feeling with them, and unless you're going for irony in a Johnny Cash "A Boy Named Sue" sort of way, it simply might not work:
Harry Burns: With whom did you have this great sex?
Sally Albright: I'm not going to tell you that.
Harry Burns: Fine, don't tell me.
Sally Albright: Shel Gordon.
Harry Burns: Shel? Sheldon? No, no, you did not have great sex with Sheldon.
Sally Albright: I did too.
Harry Burns: No you didn't. A Sheldon can do your income taxes, if you need a root canal, Sheldon's your man... but humpin' and pumpin' is not Sheldon's strong suit. It's the name. 'Do it to me Sheldon, you're an animal Sheldon, ride me big Shel-don.' Doesn't work.

- When Harry Met Sally by Nora Ephron (1989)
I know a lot of people favor character names with special meaning. They spend a lot of time on baby name websites looking up what a name means or its various historical and literary references. That's all good and well, and may get you points in some circles, but for me, I realized that Enola was "alone" backwards ages ago, and it was only cool for about five minutes.

The most important aspect of selecting a name for your character is making sure that the name is appropriate for the time and place about which you are writing. If you're writing about a character in Revolutionary era Boston, "Tony" probably doesn't have the right connotations, but 1970s New York City, and "Tony" will fit in perfectly.

So how do you go about finding historically accurate names for your characters? The answer is simple: Research. You should already be doing significant research about the time period for your writing. As you go along, just make note of historical names that spark your interest, and keep a list. Remember, you don't just need names for your main characters, you need names for all of the people who populate their world.

Don't let names get you stuck. If you can't find the right name for a character as you're plugging along with good momentum in your writing there are two references I never get tired of using:

1. The Bible - There are way more names in there than just the typical Judeo-Christian set if you just take the time to page through; and

2. A baby name book.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

To MFA or Not to MFA? That is the Question

I purchased The Creative Writing MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Graduate Students by Tom Kealey today. Had to buy it online because I can't find it at any of the bookstores in my area so I'll be waiting a little while before I can actually page through it.

I don't know what this means for my future. I don't know if this means that I'm preparing to apply again (it probably does) or if I get accepted somewhere I will actually go.

But I bought the book. So that's the first step I guess.