Label Cloud

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.