Monthly Archives: December 2007

Filter Shmilter

Alexandra Erin is a full time blooker who makes her living off the medium. She’s been doing it for 7 years. She blogs at Refresh Monkeys and Usual Nuts, and her main works can be found here, here and here.
Standing Out From The Dross

“Look, I’m a busy person. I don’t have time to read through a chapter of every story on the net just on the off-chance that it might be good. I need some kind of filter. If it’s not a publisher and a team of editors who screen out the worst of the worst, then at least I need a review site that will give me an overview of multiple stories so I can have some idea if they’ll be worth my time.

Who has time to sort through the dross?

That’s a very good question. I’ve heard it posed by people who are within the traditional publishing industry, as a reason why internet self-publishing is a bad idea that will never work. I’ve heard it posed by people who are within the self-publishing community as an expression of a serious problem which must be addressed if our good idea will ever work.

I’ve had it put to me in particular a great many times since I became a vocal proponent of self-publishing both for people who have the talent, dedication, and all-around “chops” that another path might be available to them… and for people who are simply writing for fun, people for whom it might not be a worthwhile goal to pursue a traditional publishing career.

The argument goes that the vast majority of everything is likely to be “crap”, so with no filter – no central reviewers and no barriers to entry – the amount of crap available vastly outnumbers the number of gems. The fact that the creators of the gems may have other options available to them while the crap has no other natural home only exacerbates this disparity.

The result – supposedly – is that anybody with a “gem” to offer the public who goes the self-publishing route is more or less doomed to see their work lost in the shuffle.

So… what do we do about this horrible, inescapable, and seemingly insurmountable problem which besets the world of internet self-publishing?

A Solution

Some have suggested that, in the absence of any kind of central authority, what we need is authoritative reviewers… trusted sites which can highlight the best of the best, point people towards stuff that’s worth reading, and generally serve as the much-needed filter.

Well, I admit that such sites have their uses… and would like to see more of them… but I don’t think they’re really the best solution to this particular problem. No, I have a different solution in mind. Would you like to know what it is?

Well, in a word…

Nothing.

Blook Review: Tales Of MU

Female Paper DemonThere are worlds you can get lost in, and there are worlds you just want to get out of. It is testament to Alexandra Erin‘s writing ability that Tales Of MU is set in the former: the characters may be flawed, unlovable and downright weird, but you can’t help but continue reading, no matter what she throws your way. Erin does a marvelous job of hooking and bringing you in, but it isn’t all a gentle ride: very often you’ll find yourself cursing the hook and trying to break the line. And failing.

Mack (our protagonist) is one tortured soul: she is weak, spineless, and uncomfortable with her ancestry. We are introduced to her on her first day of college, and Erin keeps you going with little revelations about the rich world she has created. You want to know more: why are humans repulsed by Mack? Why does everyone carry weapons? And – this is an interesting one, this – what exactly is Mack?

Mack’s character development is a sore point for me: she starts off as a person everyone can identify with, but I found myself despising her for her lack of strength as the blook progressed. She is stepped on, pushed around and manipulated by almost everyone, and Erin offers no respite in what seems to be a solely female cast. But by golly is it addictive: you root for Mack, cheer for Mack, and you pray fervently that she finally gets her day and stands strong against all those weird friends of hers. Erin has succeeded in creating a character with a strong emotional bond with the reader, and that is one of the best things MU has got going for it.

That it is addictive hardly hides the themes MU explores: the story handles racism well, making use of the varied species (humans being uncomfortable with orgres? Priceless!) as a parallel to real world problems. The college divides humans from non-humans, and the segregation is subtle – early on in the blook Amaranth says a remarkable line: “Intolerance doesn’t go away because you legislate against it, it just becomes more sophisticated.”

Bookmarked! The Quick Fall Of The (Blog) Book

The Death Of ReadingI love Sharon Bakar. Just the other day I found two articles via her blog (Bibliobibuli) entitled ‘The Sharp Rise (And Quick Fall) Of The Blogger’s Books.’ It is the ugly sound of publishers waking up to reality: blogger popularity will not translate to book sales. A particularly telling sentence:

… “built-in” audience or not, it all comes down to content. “A good writer is a good writer,” says Leitch. “Dana Vachon’s book (Mergers & Acquisitions), which was based on his blog – the key to that, it wasn’t about a guy that blogged. He’s a real writer. I don’t think anyone picks up the book and is like, ‘Hey, where are the links?'”

Wonderful stuff.

On a partially related front: does writing really matter? Caleb Crain writes in the New Yorker that reading may very well die out: instead, people will communicate through more visual mediums. The image that hit me was Socrates laughing away in his grave – he believed writing to be inferior to conversation.

A paragraph that made me cringe:

… but some sociologists speculate that reading books for pleasure will one day be the province of a special “reading class,” much as it was before the arrival of mass literacy, in the second half of the nineteenth century. They warn that it probably won’t regain the prestige of exclusivity; it may just become “an increasingly arcane hobby.”

In which case you and I will be very rare people indeed.

Character Blogs? Blah.

This guest post is written by Bradley (or Sebastianky) of An Obtrusive Reader. He is one of those rare kinds: an actual blook reader. Here he talks about some of the things that irk him as he reads the web’s fiction.

Character blogs aren't the only possible form of blog fiction.If you keep up with web fiction blogs, I’m sure you’ve run across a little tidbit that’s fast becoming an adage: “Don’t write a traditional story with a beginning, middle, and end – write a blog for a fictional character.”

Pay this no heed.

I am not an author, so I won’t condescend to tell the writers how to write. However, I am an avid reader, especially of web fiction and blooks, and I can tell you what I want to read – and what I want is something engaging. Regardless of your chosen medium, you cannot be a successful writer unless your readers want to keep reading. To a certain extent, then, any author is trying to write a page-turner (page-scroller?).

Does that goal require you to write in any particular way? No. Nor are you limited by your medium; we can look at successful writers from the age of print to prove it. Hemmingway and Cummings, Joyce and Asimov, Poe and Shakespeare – they wrote on many subjects, in many ways, in many formats – short stories, poems, novels, crazy-stream-of-consciousness-novels, plays – but all in the same medium: slabs of dead tree bound together.

Should, then, digital media be somehow more limiting? Ought web writers have to react to traditional media by refusing to write anything resembling a novel? What about serials? They’re nothing new – Charles Dickens was famous for his serials.

What I’m getting at is that format is less important than it’s made out to be. Writing for the net opens up some possibilities that wouldn’t be very practical in print, but it doesn’t restrict you much as an author. Don’t believe me? Check out Dirty Red Kiss – an online novel with a beginning, middle, and end. And it’s excellent. I read the whole thing in one sitting. Better yet, check out Wowio – they’re publishing online serials and webcomics, but the majority of their offerings appear to be public domain and small press books – prose originally written for the print media. And they seem to be doing pretty well.

To sum up, write what you want, write what you like to read, but don’t write what other people tell you to. Go ahead, take advantage of the new things that the internet makes feasable: short fiction, microfiction, fictional blogs, etc.

Just don’t forget that lots of people want to read lots of different things – and there’s plenty of room for everybody on the internet.

Bradley reviews all kinds of online fiction at his blog, An Obtrusive Reader. He reads like a man starved (of books) and in the process has created a wonderful repository of the best fiction the web has to offer.

Will You Read My Blook After I’m Dead?

DeathBob is a blook writer. He hosts his blook on WordPress, buys his own hosting plan, and has completed a masterpiece: a beautifully written work entitled Bob’s Blook.

One day he steps out of his house to pick up a pound of beef. It is a wonderful day for a walk down the road: the sky is an azure blue, his garden is in full bloom; the smell like wine in the air. He hums as he steps out of his front yard – there are library books under his arm he wants to return – and as he turns to head down to the shops he is hit by a speeding car.

Let’s take our mind off Bob for a moment (he won’t survive, if you’re wondering) and give some thought to his blook. What will happen to it? Bob has not left the password to the WordPress blog to any of his acquaintances, nor has he left instructions for the maintenance of his domain name or his hosting plan. Both will expire, and when they do, Bob’s blook will be no more. Since all copies of it exist solely in the digital domain it is highly likely no trace of Bob’s Blook will remain after a 5 year period. There is no chance of a grandson finding a dusty manuscript in a drawer, and there is certainly no chance of publication after death – a Children Of Hurin will certainly not happen here.

Poor Bob.

The above story brings us to the topic at hand today: we’re not going to live forever. When we’re gone, what’s going to happen to our online scribblings?

It’s a handy thing to note that the printed page will still be accessible 100 years from now. The digital page, however, may not. Times change, so do file formats. Who isn’t to say that HTML would be phased out a century from now, and that PDFs are to be laughed at?

Dave Winer gets down to the heart of the matter in his article Future-Safe Archives, which was sparked off by the death of blogger Marc Orchant.

People are humble, no one wants to come out and say their work has any value that’s worth preserving past their death, but come on, we know that’s not true. If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be writing on the web. As would Hemingway or Faulkner, Vonnegut or Mailer, John Lennon or Dylan Thomas, Carl Sandberg or Robert Frost. Mozart, Bach and Beethoven. You think there isn’t any great literature out there on the web? I wouldn’t be so sure about that. What if there is? And what if a baby born today becomes a great creative force? Or what if there’s a social disaster like the Holocaust? Did you know that there are preserved diaries from pre-revolutionary America? Writings of ordinary people can be of enormous help to historians. And if we believe in citizen journalism (I do) why not citizen historians? Shouldn’t we be thinking out into the future? We should!

Winer humbly admits his entire web presence will disappear within mere days of his death. He runs his own server; tweaks and maintains it on a weekly basis. And in days his site will be gone, and the thoughts that defined him will be lost forever.

I agree with Winer’s view that creating future-safe archives will require ‘foresight and planning’. I intend to leave some form of continuation for all my web projects should I – knock wood – get hit by a bus. But, should it prove to be too complicated to protect my digital content, I have this to say:

There will always be paper.

A Pep Talk For Me And You

The Blank Page Is Scary.There’s a storm happening at a far, secluded corner of the Internet. It happens behind closed doors, in basements, behind windows. Very often it happens at a desk. Other times it is the lonely hotel lobby, loud and distracting. The National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is going on, and participants everywhere are suffering from the effects of marathon writing.

I’ve been following Write Now Is Good for quite some time now, and after my recent Internet inactivity I logged in to Netvibes to find a whole list of posts Kristin’s done on her writing efforts for the month of November. She’s linked to a series of Pep Talks from NaNoWriMo, written by authors all over the world, and man oh man is it good stuff. I’ve been forcing myself to write, these past few weeks, staying as far as I can from technology as possible (and failing miserably, as it goes), but either way it’s still been an uphill battle to finish my aim of 10 pages a day. Neil Gaiman’s, in particular, made me smile:

… I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

To all writers out there, regardless of whether you’re in NaNoWriMo or not: keep going, you’re nearly there.