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Thursday, February 28, 2008


A hearty congratulations to good friend and colleague Erika Swyler, whose short story, "Transcontinental," has been published in the latest edition of the online literary journal Not only has her writing been included, but she is featured on the main page!

You can link directly to "Transcontinental" here.

Congratulations, Erika!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

And While We're on the Topic of Plagiarism

In case you missed this story, I felt compelled to share it with you here. A few weeks ago, a columnist with the Daily Toreador, the student newspaper at Texas Tech University, was fired for allegedly plagiarizing a blog on which he based two of his articles. What was the topic of the plagiarized articles? Plagiarism.

The announcement as it appeared in the Daily Toreador can be found here.

When you've finished chuckling, as I did, you'll be interested to know that the Daily Toreador articles and the blog from which they were allegedly plagiarized, both lifted the text from the CrimethInc. Ex-Workers' Collective publication, Days of War, Nights of Love. Thus the plot thickens.

To make matters more complicated both the blog writer and the columnist claim that CrimethInc. encourages plagiarism of their materials, and in particular, in Days of War, Nights of Love. I have not yet been able to confirm that - not having read the book - but I think what we've stumbled upon here, yet again, is the complex nature of plagiarism.

The question then becomes: is it a matter of obtaining the author's permission, or is it a matter of citation? I think it's the latter. I don't think being given permission to plagiarize absolves you of having the responsibility of citing the work. I am, however, willing to see a separation between plagiarizing an idea (a particular position on a topic), and plagiarizing the specific words used to express that idea. Now that is a lot more than I am willing to tackle in my little blog.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Textual Inspiration #2

...we therefore commit their bodies to the deep.

It would rear up howling and hissing, ice like marzipan on the forward deck, the bows plunging and whacking, so it seemed you didn't need another enemy to fire off shells and torpedoes at you, the sea was enough. Or it would stretch out broad and big and quiet as moonlit night up above, the convoy spread like ducks on a lake. Floating coffins. Which was worse, a calm or an angry sea? Or you wouldn't see it, only feel it, through the swing and judder of steel. You joined the Navy to see the sea but what you saw were the giddy innards of a ship, and what you smelt wasn't the salt sea air but the smell of a ship's queasy stomach, oil and balaclavas and ether and rum and cordite and vomit, as if you were already there, where you might be, any moment, for ever, in the great heaving guts of the oggin.
- From Last Orders by Graham Swift

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Politics and Plagiarism: Ghost Writing for Change

It is no mystery that most politicians use speech writers. Since the radio era, I don't think that any President has ever sat down to write out his inaugural address or his state of the union all on his lonesome. Which makes this election season's focus on rhetoric - and recent accusations of plagiarism - particularly interesting.

There have been several recent accusations that Barack Obama has regularly plagiarized language in his speeches. Most recently, he has been accused of lifting a passage in a speech at a Democratic Party dinner in Wisconsin that was originally spoken by Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick. Obama acknowledged using the passage saying he should have cited Patrick as the source, but claims that he and Patrick are friends and discussed using the language before he made the speech.

For more detailed information about the accusations, please see the following New York Times Articles (they're all extremely concise, and yet each tells a slightly different story):

Clinton Fingerprints on Plagiarism Flap
Clinton Camp Says Obama Plagiarized in Speech
In Politics, Inspiration or Plagiarism Is a Fine Line

No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, Clinton/Obama/McCain/No Confidence, plagiarism is not a matter that should be taken lightly, especially as a writer. The written word is not free. There is sometimes an attitude about words, that since they are free to any speaking person, that we should all have access to them in any form.

However, try to think of it like this: Words are like tap water. Writers take words, run them through a filter, send them to a bottling plant, design a label for them, market them, and distribute them. So when it arrives at your local convenience store, you're willing to pay a few dollars for the fancy new water in this nice cold bottle.

Payment for writing can come in two forms - financial payment or writing credit (or in the best of all worlds, both). Political speech writers get paid for their work - they don't get credit. When you suggest language to a politician for a speech, even if you are not on his or her writing staff, you can't imagine that you will get credit for it. What would a speech sound like if the politician had to incessantly give credit to each phrase?

Plagiarism is a serious accusation - but it only demeans the true problem when it is wrongly applied. Sharing language and ideas with political friends is not the same thing as taking a written word without consent and repeating it or publishing it as your own.

The irony of course is that the co-opted text was about the power of language itself:
“Don’t tell me words don’t matter. ‘I have a dream.’ Just words? ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.’ Just words? ‘We have nothing to fear but fear itself.’ Just words? Just speeches?”

- Barack Obama or Deval Patrick?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Short (Very Short) Fiction

Had lunch with Pops today. He asked me if I was working on any new writing. I told him that I am trying to focus on an idea for a novel. I shared some of the different ideas I have been toying with, and expressed my opinion that if I want to be a career writer that at some point I know I have to write something long form.

Pops' response surprised me. Instead of being supportive about the idea of turning my writing efforts towards a novel, he seemed to think I should put my creative time into exploring new writing mediums. He talked about writing webisodes (his description of which sounded eerily like blog entries). He rambled on about the changing consumption of written materials in the world of new media, dropping terms like "text-messaging" and "podcasting" as if those were ways that even he had been consuming media. It's as if he imagines the future of writing to be nothing but an endless series of flash fiction pieces texted regularly to your phone.

I could imagine a similar conversation happening way back in literary days of yore when some crusty old editor had to explain to Charles Dickens that readers no longer wanted to wait a few months for the next installment of a story to appear in the newspaper, and instead they wanted the full story in one volume. (Try telling that to the writers of Lost).

I'm not sure what motivated this speech, but if an old lover of all things literary is telling me to abandon the game, let me tell you, I'm a little bit scared. Funny enough, in this case, I prefer to think that Pops just doesn't think I have a novel in me.

The best the rest of us writers can do is to keep supporting each other and our industry by buying books.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

To MFA or to LSAT?

That is the QUESTION.


Pros: Spend two years (or more) focusing on my writing; workshopping with peers at or above my level; learning to teach writing; graduate with novel outline or manuscript; and creating more relationships in publishing.

Cons: Likely rejections requiring multiple application attempts over the next few years leaving the future very uncertain; possible deep debt or if I hold out for a school that offers me significant scholarship combined with aid, possible longer wait for admission to right program; graduation with only a manuscript and no real career potential; and slim job odds for MFA holder without publication.


Pros: Secure financial future; clear goals and road to accomplish said goals; returning to challenging academia; future will be settled within the next year or so; financial assistance from parents (offered but only if necessary); and ability to someday actually buy property (house/condo) as a single woman without relying on being part of a dual income relationship.

Cons: Eventually, I'd be a lawyer.

Monday, February 11, 2008

WGA Votes to Accept Deal

As art trips forward into the uncharted world of new media, it's incumbent on all of us to find the balance between enjoying the greater dissemination of work technology offers and ensuring that artists are properly compensated for monies derived from work accessed through new media. If you have been following the Writers Guild of America strike over the past few months, you know that new media has been touted as one of the largest sticking points (as closed door negotiations keep the media from knowing the exact nature of the issues on the table).

This weekend, the WGA East and West voted to approve the current deal offered, that was largely modeled after the deal that was approved by the Directors Guild of America in January.
Both deals essentially double the rates paid for TV shows and films sold as Internet downloads, once certain break-points are reached. And they require studios to work with union talent on content produced specifically for the Web, though lower-budget productions are exempt.

Both pacts also set new "residual" fees for ad-supported online streaming of TV shows. But the WGA gained a modest improvement over the directors' deal in the form of a higher potential residual in the third year of its contract.

Excerpt quoted from Reuters, February 10, 2008.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Textual Inspiration

Ben's gait was the hop-skip-and-jump proof enough that his heart was light and his anticipations high. He was eating an apple, and giving a long, melodious whoop, at intervals, followed by a deep-toned ding-dong-dong, ding-dong-dong, for he was personating a steamboat. As he drew near, he slackened speed, took the middle of the street, leaned far over to starboard and rounded to ponderously and with laborious pomp and circumstance - for he was personating the Big Missouri, and considered himself to be drawing nine feet of water. He was boat and captain and engine bells combined, so he had to imagine himself standing on his own hurricane deck giving the orders and executing them:

"Stop her, sir! Ting-a-ling-ling!" The headway ran almost out and he drew up slowly toward the sidewalk.

"Ship up to back! Ting-a-ling-ling!" His arms straightened and stiffened down his sides.

"Set her back on the stabboard!
Ting-a-ling-ling! Chow! Ch-chow-wow! Chow!" His right hand, meantime, describing stately circles - for it was representing a forty-foot wheel.

- From The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Beautiful Los Angeles

The view from my desk on a clear day. The one bonus of my going-nowhere-nine-to-five job is having this for daily inspiration.

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Serial and the Hanging Ending

There is nothing I hate more in a book than a hanging ending. When I select a book at a bookstore, I am entering into an agreement with the author. I will pay for the book, devote time to reading, and in return the author will tell me a complete story. On the last page I will be left with the cherished feeling of both satisfaction and wistful regret that the book has come to an end.

However, there is an epidemic amongst certain genres that seem to be insisting that a hanging ending is acceptable. I'm looking at you The Golden Compass. It is not. If you need to leave your readers in suspense on the last page in order to ensure that they pick up the next book, you are not doing your job. Every book in a serial should have its own ending. Yes, the series can work on a larger overall plot (e.g. Voldemort), but you should still feel a satisfaction at the end of each book. A book in a series should be like a battle in the context of a war. The battle ends decisively, but the war continues.

In support of this argument, I present a list of ways to keep readers interested in your series:

1.) Characters - It's always important to have strong characters, but it's even more so in a series. Spend time exploring your main characters. Give them distinct personalities. Work on their charm. Make them accessible to readers. Write about real people. If you do that, people will want to continue with them on their journey.

2.) Romance - While it's important for characters to change somewhat in each book of a series, they are on a slower path than characters in a single novel. I would encourage you to build interpersonal relationships for your characters that grow from book to book. In particular, providing your character with a romantic interest is a great way to carry readers from book to book.

3.) World/Universe - Be creative! Since most serials are in the Sci-Fi or Fantasy genre, it is of utmost importance that you be creative. Draw your readers into the landscape of your book. Fill it with exciting and fascinating things. Make it a place that they want to return to, a place that they want to escape to, a place they would want to be lost.

4.) Plot - As mentioned above, a serial book should be like a battle in the context of the war. Take the time to think this through. Your war-plot should be compelling and exciting, and if you do the above three items, your readers will want to read through until the very ending.