Category Archives: writing

Books Beneath You

So there’s this guy who is embarrassed that his wife reads a lot of YA literature. “I feel mildly embarrassed that she can talk (in detail!) to my nieces about these books at holiday gatherings.”

The idea that literature written for youngsters is automatically simplistic stuff is moronic. We all know the story about A Wrinkle in Time being marketed as a YA because the ideas in it were too complex to be marketed as adult literature, yes? But YA often has more compelling storytelling than the adult stuff, so why not read it? I like compelling storytelling. There’s a reason I was a big fan of that Nickelodeon show Avatar: The Last Airbender, and why I loved the Harry Potter series.

On the other hand, why must everything you read be “Great Literature?”

Since books have been cheap enough for the masses to afford, there’s always been some peabrain who goes on about “bad literature” rotting the brain. Sometimes the peabrain is a celebrated author! Louisa May Alcott has several fine rants in Little Women, Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom about the dangers of trashy literature. Never mind that she wrote a fair share of it herself!

I do admit that I read with about the same forethought and discrimination most people apply to their television watching. That’s mostly because I rarely like television shows (yes, Avatar was an exception) and go to reading for my entertainment on the same level as someone getting into reality TV. I mean, at present, I am reading T. Tembarom by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and a more sentimental early twentieth century dime novel you’d be unlikely to find. It pulls on the emotions more or less like reality TV is meant to.

Do I ever read “Great Literature?” I guess, but I don’t really think about it that way. Whenever I look at a list of 100 or so books that are listed as “classics,” it’s a pretty sure bet I’ve read at least 50 of them, sometimes more, depending on the list. But the fact that I have read them has considerably more to do with sheer volume at which I read than any real serious selection on my part. *grin* That, and the fact that you can read many classics for free by downloading them from The Gutenberg Project.

Maybe I’m a low-brow. I dunno. But one thing I am sure of, any guy who is embarrassed at his wife reading The Hunger Games is a dork.

E-books and Print

In Glory Road, Heinlein has a character who can’t go to sleep and he asks for something to read.  “Words in a row” is the way he put it.  I remember that really resonating with me, as I have had a similar habit since even before I got into science fiction.[1]

So, I’m a pretty voracious reader.  When I started carrying a purse regularly, purse shopping took on some serious specifics. It had to be large enough to fit a couple of paperbacks.  Even so I had to leave some of my favorite epics at home whenever I travelled.[2]  I disliked that.

When e-readers became popular, I cheered.  Most of my favorite books really are words in a row.  Not too many diagrams or illustrations needed to supplement the text[3] and formatting page by page wasn’t a real issue.  It was the text that was the important thing.

So, I’m a big fan of e-readers.  I get a little frisson of delight when I slip my Kindle into my purse with its library of hundreds of books to choose from.  I like it even better when I am reading long computer manuals on travel and don’t have to carry those brick-like things with me and crowd out my fiction weight!

Does that mean I hate “dead tree” books?

Not in the least.  My copy of The Lord of the Rings in its red leather binding is a treasure to me.  I love the marriage of the art of the book craft as well as the story.  A book on origami or knitting is pointless on a Kindle.  The color illustrations that are large enough to see and understand are integral to the usefulness and beauty of the book.[4]

But when it’s words in a row that make the story and make the art, my oh my do I love my e-reader.

[1] I read my first science fiction story in the fourth grade.  “The Fun They Had” by Isaac Asimov.  That “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury were in our reading books that year.  I was hooked.

[2] Shogun, Mists of Avalon, a few others…

[3] Well, elvish rune, sure.  But other than that, not really.

[4] Yes, I know.  A tablet computer would handle those things much better.

What Editing is Supposed to Be

I had a rather unusual pleasure today.  I edited a piece for a friend.

Now this chick can write. Funny?  Oh very yes!  Clear?  Yep.  Has a specific voice.  My goodness yes.

So, when I saw it and asked if I could edit it, it wasn’t because what she did sucked.  It was because it was good and just needed a few rough edges sanded down and polished.

Something that is a real myth about the writing world is that an editor will just ruin your piece.  I even believed it for awhile.  Blame it on some of Heinlein’s snarky comments if you want.  But the truth is that no editor wants to ruin your piece, kill your voice or anything like that.  That’s not the editor’s job.

It’s the editor’s job to make you look brilliant. Well, insofar as possible.  Can’t make bricks without straw.  But what an editor wants is for anything that passes her desk to be readable, instructive, entertaining or whatever might be the goal of the publication.

Her comment was, “Oh wow. Ok that’s amazing. I totally see. You sort of turned it into the piece I wanted it to be in the first place with the editing.”

That means I managed to do my job in working on it!

I Have Come to a Decision

I’ve been reviewing my work Screw Skinny, Get Fit and I realize that I’ve been messing around on this project for too long.  I need a big, huge deadline that’ll embarrass me if I don’t meet it to get my lazy butt in gear about this thing.

So, here’s the deal.

I’m going to be offering ScrewSkinny for sale in PDF or PRC (that means you can read it on a Kindle, or in Mobipocket) starting April 1, 2010.   I  haven’t set a price yet, but it’s going to be under $10.  If I get another big contract, I’m just gonna have to give up some knitting time.  This is gonna happen no matter who else wants my literary excellence.

This book is not for the athlete.  It’s for someone who is sedentary who wants to build or maintain health and fitness.  If you have an active, outdoor lifestyle, you’re all good and don’t need this.  It’s for someone who’d rather knit or play WoW.  Yes, there is a strong geek focus.

I discuss levels of ability, including handicaps of various sorts, and explain why The Perfect Workout is nonsense.

Lectures and Classes

I gave a talk on Search Engine Optimization and Content Management Systems at Lebanon College yesterday.   Yeah, I know, the topic was a little too broad for an hour’s lecture.   But it was a decent overview.  greendalekgreendalek said that it got his students excited and engaged for the rest of the class, so I think I did okay.  I’m glad I brought my computer, though.  I’d brought the Powerpoint presentation on a memory stick, and I found that the software on the drive interfered with the computer at the school seeing the files on the drive, confound it.  So we just plugged my netbook into the projector and I did the lecture from that.

If anyone was wondering about Powerpoint presentations and netbooks, I can say that mine (minimal animation, no animated media and no sound) did just fine for the talk.  I think I want a wireless slide advance thingie (how’s that for a technical term?) for the next time I do a lecture.  I prefer to stand in the front of the class.

It makes me more comfortable for the social networking class.   Most of the teach I’ve done has been exercise-based.  While I’ll have several exercises in the class, it’s going to be mostly lecture-based, and I was wondering how I’d do for lecturing without talking people through physical exercises.

It’s funny how perspective can change. I used to marvel at people who could speak “spontaneously” and fluidly on topics.   I ran across a comment once in Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein that sounding spontaneous is often a matter of careful preparation.  That’s so true.  I kept track of how long I spent prepping for that talk.   I spent just shy of eight hours for a one hour talk — and that was on a subject I knew pretty well.  Now, if I give the talk again, it’s unlikely that I’ll spend more than an hour and a half or so reviewing and tweaking.

Still, it was fun.  I find that I almost always learn more about a subject just from researching for lectures.   *chuckles* and looking at this pile of books on various elements of social networking and online interaction at my elbow, I expect I’ll experience the same thing in my class come January.

Traveling with a Netbook

I’m on a bus traveling down to the airport to catch a plane home.  I have a lot on my mind about the trip, and to distract myself, I’ve been working.

I often joke my office is my purse.   Okay, that’s not really a joke.   I’ve been reading a book to get ideas for a course I’m developing, checking my email (the bus has wi-fi) and generally just doing a lot of the things I ordinarily do as part of my morning’s work.

I’d gotten a netbook with an eye to the fact I travel a few times a year and wanted something not too expensive and easily portable. So far, I’m liking travelling with a netbook.  The good battery and the compact machine make it nice for crowded travel.  The fact that it’s light to carry and fits in a purse doesn’t hurt, either.

I think my next “big” computer is going to be a desktop I’ll sync with my netbook.  The desktop will deliver lots of computing power cheap, for when I need that.  Then I can do 90% of my work on my portable machine.   As a writer whose work is often web-based, I just don’t need the computing power you’d require for video editing or high-end gaming.

The Real Vampire in Fiction

A certain very popular publishing company of women’s romance novels has decided to offer a new line of vanity publishing.   This link goes to Writers Beware, which might give you a clue to my opinion on the matter.  You pay to get your novel published and possibly edited if you’re paying at the higher tier.  No, you don’t have the full force of the marketing department behind the book.  Neither are you going to be able to count on the big chains stocking the book.

Vanity publishing has been around a long time.   As a business model, it’s great for the publisher.  The author almost never breaks even.

I’m fine with a business turning a profit, what with being a small business owner and a greedy capitalist meeself, and all. What I’m against is an unethical product that preys on emotional weakness, which this vanity publishing scam does.

I had an interesting epiphany in a Border’s a couple of weeks ago. I’m a very small-time writer. I do technical writing, SEO-type stuff… Any fiction writer who manages to make a living at it would probably call me a bottom feeder, and fair enough. But, this perspective does give me a “marketing mind” in a way that the stereotype of the writer from the coffee shop might not have. It got me to thinking in the YA section of that store. There was a Twilight display with books and merchandise and another dedicated to Harry Potter. I started looking at the newer titles in the section. Right now the trend in YA is dark fantasy and stuff with a Goth feel.

“This is all just product,” I thought, as I was looking around.  Product follows trend in the entertainment world, and fiction is most certainly the entertainment business.

I think we’re trained that there’s something holy or elevated about books. In a way that’s true. The printing press spread ideas in a way that had been impossible before. The fact that a book is an expression of a human mind is pretty damn awesome. But not every thought we think is necessarily a priceless diamond. Often it’s just a drop of water. It’s when it’s taken in a wave that the water becomes an impressive force.

We’re also trained to think there’s something holy or elevated about art for art’s sake.  Does art have value?  Yes.  Again, art is an expression of what is not only uniquely human about us, but is often a deep expression of the times in which we live, the joys we celebrate and the pain we mourn.  But just because it is an expression of our mind doesn’t mean that art always expresses well.

We have always had to look for gems amongst the garbage when it comes to actual art. That’s not new. Dickens was a hack to the Victorians, remember. So was Shakespeare. Do we remember all the playwrights from the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries? Of course not. Have you ever read some random fiction from Victorian times? Some of it was pretty awful. Most of it was “mix as before” that the publishers hoped would make them a pile of money.

The problem is that this vanity publishing scheme is not going to give writers who otherwise had no chance a real chance at publishing a novel.     Unless you’re really great at selling, you’ll never recoup your production costs, much less your time costs of writing the damn thing in the first place!   If you’re really great at selling, you have a better chance at the traditional method of publication, where you’ll be paid more anyway.  This, like all vanity publishing, preys on people with a handful of dreams and a hatful of ignorance.

Addendum: L’esprit d’escalier gives an excellent analysis of why this business model sucks.   As Ms. Brown so eloquently puts it, “Writers sign the back of the check!”