Monthly Archives: May 2007

The Friday Project Rocks

I recently expressed my desire to read In Search Of Adam – something nearly impossible due to my geographical location. Shipping a book over from the UK just doesn’t bode well for me … in both time, effort and cost.

A few hours after I posted up that wish Clare from The Friday Project contacted me. I was pleasantly surprised … and intrigued.clare_comment

And so I fired off an email to her – hoping that she could address my doubts about ordering In Search Of Adam from so far away a place. I have to admit – this quick support quite impressed me, and it wasn’t long before I received another email.

Dear Eli

re. ‘In Search of Adam’

We would be able to ship a copy over, however we would have to charge £2.50 extra for shipping, so the total price would be £14.49. Please let me know if you’d like to order a copy

Best wishes

Madeleine James
Editorial Assistant – The Friday Project

in_search_of_adam_cover_1.jpgAnd … my hopes were dashed. The cost was quite beyond my budget for a single book, and it would take 3 months (on average) for the book to arrive. The sacrifice just didn’t seem worth it … and so I decided to wait it out.

Hold on a sec, though … The Friday Project replied and connected with me – one prospective buyer interested in one of their blooks. Where on the internet can you get this kind of customer service?

The Friday Project rocks … and I am now a staunch supporter of everything they do. If you’re living in the UK get your grubby paws on one of their books right away – shame on you if you don’t!

PS: Check out the coverage on In Search Of Adam here, here and here.

Blogs Are Fantastically Boring

Are blogs really that interesting? Imagine for a moment that your favourite personal blog (say, Dooce or Kamigoroshi) were transferred onto the printed page. Would it be as compelling as the blog itself? Would anyone stick around to read page 1000 (assuming it’s 1 post per page)?

The answer is no.

It was an article in the Sydney Morning herald that started me on this line of thought – in it a quote from Juliet Annan (publishing director of Penguin/Fig Tree) struck gold:

Most blogs are fantastically boring. What is exciting is that you can find people who don’t realise what great writers they are.

Yeah, so why would blogs being converted directly to print fail?

Let’s think about it: in a novel there’s an introduction, then rising action, a climax, and a falling action. This is of course a very basic idea of what a novel can be, but it underlines the fact that all novels have a proper ending – something that readers would look forward to and which every chapter points to.

In a blog this idea of a clear narrative is almost non-existent. Today I talk about my newly-dianosed cancer, tomorrow I go on a tyrade against George Bush and the next I tell you why I think Borat was a great movie.

Most blooks that get published will need to have a purpose: a beginning and an end. Julie and Julia (winner of the 2006 Blooker prize) was a cooking project by Julie Powell – 365 days, 524 recipes, one tiny apartment kitchen. Of which she says:

“My blog had an advantage because it was a project, so it had a beginning, a middle and a kind of end, but it was obvious to me from the beginning that I didn’t want to include everything I had written on the blog and put it on the page, because it would have been stiflingly dull,” she says. “I didn’t want it to be indulgent.”

Back to the two personal blogs I mentioned earlier: if by any chance their owners would like to turn them into books … a purpose would have to be found, and about half of the posts would have to be sliced out.

Bookmarked! May 27

A little shoutout here: Aaron Dunlap has finished Mind+Body … and he’s looking for a good agent to help him get the blook published. In the meantime he’s going to run it through a proofreader and put it up on Lulu. Any of you know a good lit agent to recommend go email him here.

On with the usual Bookmarked! fare:

Article 1. This is a (relatively) old Time.com article on blooks, posted in the days leading up to the Blooker prize announcement. It’s different because the article’s focus is on Blurb, instead of the usual Lulu exultations.

For creative types, on-demand printing is a cost-effective way to reach an audience, says Jeff Hayes, chief analyst at InfoTrends. Self-publishers have long served this purpose, Hayes adds, but Blurb reaches well beyond frustrated novelists. “It speaks to this long-tail economy,” Hayes says. “If you’re the local painter or you make jewelry, how do reach those who are interested in what you do? The key is to make it easier for the individual publisher and the interested reader to connect.”

It is essentially about Michelle Kaufmann, who used Blurb to publish Prefab Green, a book featuring her architectural firm’s work – ‘100 glossy pages of text, color photos and detailed floor plans.’

Article 2. Alright, so this isn’t an article. But I can’t help but share it: The Book Inscriptions Project is a site that posts up (you guessed it) book inscriptions! Or rather the little messages people scribble in the margins of books, especially when the book is a gift. What they do (in their own words):

We collect personal messages written in ink (or pen or marker or crayon or grape jelly) inside books. Pictures count. So do poems. So do notes on paper found in a book. The more heartfelt the better.

It’s a lot like Postsecret, but – thankfully – not as vulgar.

Article 3. How long should your story be? How many words in a novel? A novella? Short story? Read on to see what editors expect.

Blooks

1. In Search Of Adam is something I’d like to get my hands on … it is a blook (I’m pretty sure it is) but since it’s published by The Friday Project I don’t think I can get it in a brick and mortar bookstore over here. I can but hope – you never know if it gets bought over by Bloomsbury or Harper Collins or something. Go check it out here.

2. The City Desk is a really weird fiction blog. No narrative, no story … just an exploration of a (non-existent) city – its businesses and events and streets.

“After browsing for a while, I’m still not sure what it is, but I like it.” – Internet user named “Ickster,” at Metafilter

I think that pretty much sums it up.

3. My friend Ming has started a blook … a day by day journey to find inspiration as an artist. As of press time he’s at Day 6, and boy does he do beautiful pieces.
'noise' - by ming
I’m hoping he acheives what he’s looking for – because a lot of what he writes about inspiration is true for writers too …

Inspiration? I don’t pretend to know what that is. But I think it is breathing in the moment in all it’s richness, with all our senses, filling our beings with love, and beauty, and a silent wisdom.

A picture may well be worth a hundred words, but both are capable of evoking complex emotions in their own right. And come to think of it … a novel would be worth 1100 pictures … both an explosion of colours and thoughts and feelings.

Exhibition, anyone?

Modem Fried

Just a short shoutout: my modem got fried in a thunderstorm a few days ago, so I apologize for the lack of posts this week. I’ll be back soon (I hope).

Don’t Describe Your Characters?

puppy loveI’m going to stop now and tell you outright that I’m a handsome fella, and I’ve broken many hearts and will continue to do so for the good part of the next 50 years. My hair is black and my eyes hazel brown, and a sight to see for many a mile, especially if you’re walking in a desolate wasteland.

Chances are good you don’t believe me at the moment. Even if you do … you’d be waiting for me to prove it to you, to break your heart, and to show you how dazzling I can be.

Well, no. I can’t prove it to you since all that was a lie.

But the above description makes a point I would like to share today: everytime I describe a character I create an expectation – a raised eyebrow that awaits proof of my statement. If I call Mr Green a ‘despicable, unagreeable old geezer, prone to fits of uncontrollable rage and quick to change his mind on any subject’ I’ll have a lot to cover, and most of it through actions and words and monologues.

It has been personal habit really, this reluctance to describe character attributes. Early on I found my character development to be limited – I just didn’t have the skill to paint real people onto the pages of my book. I know there are quite a few novelists who pull this off without batting an eyelid – Tolstoy’s War And Peace has believable characters, a true accomplishment when you realize the novel spans 900 plus pages and is littered with a hundred member cast.

So what did I do? I covered. I kept character descriptions to just the physical attributes, letting the reader pick up on how the character thought and moved and ticked throughout the course of the novel. It worked, and in the meantime I practised furiously the art of bringing my characters to life.

Now there are limitations to this technique, and I’m the first to admit that. If you have a huge cast of characters (and a relatively short plot) there just isn’t enough time to develop each and every one of them. And if it’s flash fiction or short stories don’t bother. You’re better off describing the character, since discrepancies aren’t likely to occur and you don’t need to aim for an emotional connection for such a small piece.

kevinbook_1.jpgWant an example of this? I’ve just finished We Need To Talk About Kevin, a novel about the aftermath of a high school killing. In the series of letters that make up the book we grow to intimately understand Kevin – why he did what he did, what motivates him, how he grew up the way he did despite all the love his parents had for him.

We don’t develop this understanding because of a torrent of descriptions; rather Lionel Shriver gives example after example of what Kevin does, and slowly we piece together the person he is. It is an amazing book, with a powerful way of studying a character, stripping him down layer by layer, motivation by motivation.

You never love Kevin. You hate him. But you understand why he does the things he does, why he thinks the way he thinks.

You get under his skin, and you get under the skin of his mother. It’s not a comfortable place to be.

See the power of excluding descriptions? Some call it showing and not telling, but the best way to understand would be to dissect a 468 page, award winning example for yourself. Read it.

8 Weird Things (Meme)

Benjamin has tagged me, and being a good denizen of the web (though I must say I detest memes on bad days), I’ll respond.

The rules of the meme:
orb_of_light.jpg

  1. Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
  2. People who are tagged write their own blog post about their 8 things and post these rules.
  3. At the end choose 8 people to get tagged and list their names.
  4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged and to read your blog.

Right. On with it:

  1. I don’t watch television. I find it an absolute waste of time.
  2. I love vanilla ice-cream. It’s the best ice cream flavour ever created. Ever!
  3. I try to read books that get me to think. Most of the time I end up with a splitting headache. I only read thrillers once in awhile, for kicks.
  4. Favourite book of all time: Lord Of The Flies.
  5. I want a Mac. I’ve been wanting a Mac for years now.
  6. I listen to John Mayer whenever my hands tire of writing. It helps, and it has helped throughout intense study sessions and revision sprees.
  7. I believe seven is God’s number. But come to think of it I can’t yet find any proof to support that claim.
  8. I’m very, very scared of bees.

It’s late now, and I can’t think of 8 people to pass this meme on to. So I’ll just close, and update later. Night!

Smell The Page

Chalk up another reason why the screen will never replace books: your nose.

It didn’t really hit me until today when I picked up one of those new Penguin Popular Classics, rejacketed in a lovely green skin. It was made mostly out of recycled paper, and it smelled sweet. As in honey sweet. I stopped every few pages to hold the book up and breathe in its heady scent.
jane_eyre
Well, acting against this experience is Bill Gates – who once made a prediction that reading is going to become completely online.

“We believe that as we get the smaller form factor, the screen has gotten good enough. Why is reading online better? It’s up to date, you can navigate, you can follow links. The ads … are completely targeted as opposed to just being run-of-print, where many of the readers will find them completely irrelevant. The ads can be in new and richer formats. In fact the only drawbacks of the digital form are the things associated with the device: how big is it, heavy is it, how many hours of power does it have, how much do I have to spend to buy it? But those are things that once you achieve that threshold, in terms of the convenience and the cost, then you see a dramatic change in behavior. Today, for people who read newspapers and magazines, even the most avid PC user probably still does quite a bit of reading on print. As the device moves down in size and simplicity, that will change, and so somewhere in the next five-year period we’ll hit that transition point, and things will be even more dramatic than they are today.”

For some reason I imagine a little iPod-like device with holes … from which we get little chemical particles that smell just like a new book. And as the file fades away (or gets corrupted) we smell mildew and dust and (gah!) rot. And soon we’d be all saying to each other: “Gosh! It’s got that new eReader smell!”

I understand that the way things are going books may very well be phased out, a direct result of commercial interests. And I don’t want to speculate. But I dearly, dearly don’t want books to go – if not for the feel of the page, the smell.

Like my copy of Silence Of The Lambs: smokey, old socks.

Want to take a sniff?

A Writing Flickr

Remember Urbis? This time we find it’s no longer alone. A Techcrunch plug the other day alerted me to the presence of Portrayl … and Ficlets.
portrayl.JPG
Portrayl allows users to write stories chapter by chapter, or collaborate on stories that a user has started. In theory it sounds wonderful, but in reality it resembles Penguin’s group wiki novel experiment … an experiment that ultimately failed. Would anyone really want to browse through a novel with alternate endings, disparate writing styles and inconsistent characterization? I don’t think so.
ficlets_1.JPG
On the other hand I find Ficlets to be a refreshing take on Internet prose. It allows users to write short stories, and then frees the piece to the community to write prequels and sequels to those stories. Comments and ratings feature heavily throughout the site, as does RSS (used to keep track of all the aforementioned prequels and sequels). See this example for a feel of what the site’s about.

2007 Blooker Prize Winners!

Alright, and it’s finally out.

Overall Winner (and Non-Fiction winner)My War: Killing Time In Iraq by Colby Buzzell
Fiction WinnerThe Doorbells of Florence by Andrew Losowsky
Comics Winner - Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies

I can see why My War won, judging from the way the Iraq war is presented in the mainstream media these days – the whole idea of a US soldier running away to cyber cafes between shifts and blogging about such an experience is highly magnetic … indeed, almost guaranteed bestselling material.

Colby walks away with $10,000 in cash, and while he may be smiling away Paul Jones is quick to point out that his may be the last ‘open and frank military blog blook.’

I’ve talked about how Blooker prize winners are, in the end, amateurs, but while this year’s selection may not have improved from a literary point of view (don’t expect The God Of Small Things anytime soon) it has certainly presented an … alternative to what we usually get from the mainstream. The Doorbells of Florence are random pictures of doorbells accompanied by fictional stories of the people living behind them, and came about from a Flickr photo set, of all things.

momscancer_1.jpgMom’s Cancer is not unique, certainly (there are loads of worthy web comics out there), but it is the backstory that counts: the author’s mother contracts cancer … and he draws the comic throughout the period. I liked it, and it was a pity it was taken down from the web, due to copyright issues.

But in the end it’ll be Colby’s book that generates the most buzz.

“Buzzell never takes the easy route of painting Iraq in black and white tones. His account gives flesh-and-blood — and anger, scorn, bile, and unexpected humor — to the Iraq debacle. His delightfully profane account loses nothing in the transformation from blog to blook.’ – Arianna Huffington

Oh, and Nick Cohen’s remarks:

“Of all the books in the competition, ‘My War’ is the one most likely to last. If, in 20 years time, people want to know what it was like to fight in Iraq, they can pick up ‘My War’ and find out. It tells what it’s like to be a grunt fighting in the Sunni Triangle – with more power and authority than the best ‘embedded reporter’ could manage. It is something of a triumph for blogs over traditional media.”

Funny, he’s just talked about Colby Buzzell a few days ago.

Last, but not least, Colby’s words on getting published:

“After I tell them, “I don’t know”, I usually tell them to go start a blog. It’s what I did, and if you think about it a blog is the best and most affordable way for an absolute nobody with no formal journalism or writing education to be a published.”

How … simple. I can’t help but smile.

Not Too Many Details, Please

When I first started out writing it was impressed upon me how important detail was in my narrative.
limelight.jpg

I want to feel the flowers I want to smell the flowers I want to breath through your pages.

I can’t deny narrative is powerful stuff. Many a novel is saved by the sharp voice of the narrator alone – the whimsical flights of fancy that really has nothing to do with the story being told, but is charming nevertheless. But I cry out whenever I read a story with too much insignificant detail, each action of each character lovingly described until it becomes unbearably stilted.

It’s extremely hard to demonstrate in a post, but let me try my best:

She got up from bed and stared at the unfamiliar room. It was old and grey and smelt of talcum powder. With a rush she realized it reminded her of her childhood.

She decided to go downstairs and make herself a cup of coffee. As she descended the grime on the windows by the staircases caught her eye. I’ll have to clean that up after I complete my paperwork, she told herself, and then she swept into the kitchen.

The kitchen was purple and tiled, and smelt of yesterday’s coffee. She wondered if coffee was all it was ever going to smell of. She flipped a switch and the humming of the coffee maker filled the room, mechanical and annoying.

She wondered how much of this house was of use to her. The cracked purple tile of the kitchen was charming when she first bought the house, but it was now starting to bore her. Her appliances were last decade, but the kitchen was last century. It was mismatched, and not in a good way. She filed away at her fingernails, watching the skin flake away. Must be the detergent I’m using, she thought, I’ll have to switch brands soon.

Okay. I admit there’s nothing wrong about the above extract, but there’s nothing unbelievably great about it either. It doesn’t hook you, it doesn’t give you an insight to how a character works – you can’t possibly tell if ‘she’ is the type of woman to kill her husband in cold blood, or leave her boyfriend in a ditch after poisoning him. Scenes like this are unnecessary, not contributing to the plot of a romance or a thriller or a horror novel. In fact, this scene contributes nothing, and I hate it when an author fills up 5 chapters with this kind of dross. In a novel it’d be inane; in a blook unforgiveable.

The Orange Prize

The small bookstores in my town are conspiring against me.

A week ago I saw the usual selection of Stephen Kings and Jeffrey Archers, and lusted over We Need To Talk About Kevin (which I had never thought of buying before). I returned two days ago, determined to purchase just that. Headed straight down the aisle, reached for an unblemished copy, stood up. And found myself face to face with this:

theobservations_1.jpg

It was one of the nominated books for the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction. And it was a debut novel, to boot.

I was petrified. Caught up between buying something I had wanted for a month and something … current.

And then, there! Another nominee for the Orange Prize! At the corner of a bookshelf, at that!

halfofayellowsun_1.jpg

Oh no oh no oh no! I was trapped – only had enough money to buy one book. And all these books are so expensive!

What’s one litblogger to do when faced with such consummate strategy?

Appreciating Blook Readers

Anybody writing a blook would know firsthand how hard it is to find and maintain loyal readers. We face quite a challenge – writing fiction in a merciless medium, where the screen resembles the scroll more than the book.

I was recently jolted at Derick’s blog, Reader Meet Author. I had left a comment in one of his posts, and in the space of a few short hours I received this email:

Dear Eli James,

I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to stop by Reader Meet Author. In particular, I wanted to say thanks for leaving me a comment. This is the first time you\’ve commented at RMA, right?

One of the things I\’ve always wanted from RMA was interaction and the sharing of ideas. I know you have other things you could probably be doing. So believe me when I say I really appreciate you taking time out of the day to interact with me and my readers.

Thanks again… and I hope to hear from you again!

Sincerely,

Derick
ReaderMeetAuthor.com

I was pleased. And surprised, yes, but pleasantly so.

The next time a reader comments on your blook – and takes the time to make it intelligent and helpful – show your appreciation. Reply to the comment immediately, and take it a step further … send him or her an email.

You see, in the few seconds it took me to read that email something changed within.

I liked Derick. I liked Reader Meet Author. And so I subscribed to it. It’s the little things that jump out at you, and this is one of them.

Appreciate your readers. Because in blooking each of them counts.