Thursday, February 26, 2015
One of the unintended consequences of my switch to MailChimp was that I crashed the poor unsuspecting Outlook users out there.
Sorry! I mean you no harm!
This should now be fixed. If it is not, please let me know and I shall work on another fix ASAP.
And if you don't use Outlook and are wondering why you are reading this post, here is a fantastic cat GIF for you:
Art: Schipbreuk by Henri Adolphe Schaep
Posted by Nathan Bransford at 11:10 AM
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
There was some good news in bookstoreland this week as beloved San Francisco science fiction and fantasy bookstore Borderlands announced that they would be able to stay open at least another year thanks to a successful (and unique) crowdfunding and sponsorship campaign. They had previously planned to close in part due to rising minimum wages in San Francisco.
Is this a harbinger of things to come for bookstores?
I've previously predicted that local, independent bookstores would hang on longer than chains, much as indie record stores have persisted even as Virgin, Borders and Tower megastores bit the dust in the music world.
But it seems like even just relying on book sales may not be enough as e-books continue their inexorable march.
What do you think? Can bookstores hang on, and is crowdfunding the answer? Or will bookstores be saved by another force? Or will they eventually be consigned to the past?
Art: Pariser Büchermarkt by Fritz Westendorp
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
I make no secret of my love for the TV spectacle otherwise known as "The Bachelor." We have had some incredible journeys together. And yes, I'm in it for the right reasons.
What I love about "The Bachelor" is that it manages to transcend its utterly insane premise (man/woman searches for love by dating 25 people simultaneously, publicly breaks up with each one at a "rose ceremony") with a mix of sincerity, self-awareness and psychological spectacle.
"The Bachelor" is widely regarded as the ultimate of lowbrow culture, and yet there's this strange fact: it's the most widely watched show among 18-49 year olds who make more than $150,000 a year.
As Fifty Shades of Grey dominates the box office and critics largely dispense with trashing it in favor of a spirit of, "Whatever, it does what it's supposed to do well," I'm wondering if we're entering a time when there's no such thing as highbrow or middlebrow or lowbrow.
Is this the era of the unibrow?
I'm not the first to wonder this, a few months back the Bookends column at the New York Times debated just this topic (as well as revealing the etymology of "highbrow," which got its start in the eugenic-leaning "science" of phrenology. Yikes!)
Thomas Mallon argues that culture has benefited from the collision of art at all levels, noting for instance, "does anyone believe that the American short story has improved by making its initial appearance in literary quarterlies never seen by any brows but the highest?"
Pankaj Mishra argues that the profit motive has leveled out the brows, forcing auteurs to be crowd-pleasers, and obliterating individuality.
Personally, I think the explosion of voices in the world brought to us by the infinite choice of the Internet means that anyone hoping to be heard must also, by necessity, entertain. Even those aspiring to be highbrow and express complexity of thought and emotion must also bow to the reality that they need to capture eyeballs.
Think of John Oliver, wrapping serious advocacy journalism in comedy, or the recent trend of literary genre fiction like Station Eleven.
What do you make of this? Are we worse off because it's hard to imagine a Proust, or even a David Foster Wallace, gaining cultural ground in 2015? Or is a muddling of brows a sign that culture is democratizing?
Art: Retrato del Cardenal Inquisidor Don Fernando Niño de Guevara by El Greco
Monday, February 23, 2015
After many many lost years not really tending to my blog's e-mail subscriptions, I have finally made the jump to Mailkimp... er... MailChimp, so those of you who subscribe via email should be receiving an email that looks rather better and hopefully does not end up in your spam filters.
If you don't yet subscribe via e-mail and are interested in getting this here blog right in your inbox whenever I post, kindly sign up here.
I also fixed the Facebook sharing, so if you so desire to share any of these posts with your Facebook Friends, you should now be able to choose the art in the past as the thumbnail so it looks prettier.
Lastly, I gave the Forums a long-overdue spam cleanup, so it should once again be safe for your discussions and query critiques.
Basically, I was an Internet Carpenter this weekend.
I'd love to hear your feedback! Anything else you'd like to see that will help you read the blog? (Besides, you know, me actually writing posts).
Art: Russian Empire Postman by Anonymous
Thursday, February 19, 2015
One of the biggest challenges with third person narratives is how to balance multiple perspectives.
This isn't always something beginning writers give much thought. Third person is third person, right? Can't you just jump from one character to another as you need to? Aren't all-seeing perspectives essentially the same?
Head jumping can be really confusing for a reader. It can be wildly disorienting to see three, four, five characters' inner thoughts in succession. You stop feeling anchored in a scene and instead feel like you're swimming through a thought explosion.
There are two main ways to solve this: sticking to third person limited (anchored to one character's perspective) or third person omniscient (Gods-eye). But most novels deviate slightly from these strict categories and cheat from time to time.
Rather than telling you "rules" about omniscient vs. limited vs. hybrid, here are some directional tips that will hopefully help you keep the reader feeling anchored in a scene:
1) Consider separating a shift in perspective with chapter or scene breaks
This is the most straightforward approach to multiple perspectives in a third person limited narrative. Pick a character and stick with their perspective through a cohesive chapter or scene. This is how George R.R. Martin handles the Song of Fire and Ice books (aka Game of Thrones). The novels are anchored by several key characters per novel, and we see what is happening through their eyes.
2) If you're going to break perspective within a scene, think of it as keeping a "camera" in place
Occasionally you might want to remove the narrating character and show something that is happening out of their view, whether in order to show the reader something the main character can't see or because it just makes sense for them to bounce for a second.
If you're going to do this, I compare this to keeping a "camera" in place in the scene. Remove the main character, but keep the narrative going with the other characters who remain. Don't suddenly shift deeply into someone else's thoughts and feelings, but it's okay to linger a bit and show something the anchoring character shouldn't be able to see.
When/if the character returns, you can slide back into showing their thoughts.
3) If you're using a more omniscient third person perspective, imagine the narrator as a fully-fledged character
Third person omniscient allows more head-jumping and more flexibility in showing various thoughts and motivations. But it's tricky to keep things consistent and avoid disorientation.
Rather than thinking of the narrative jumping from one character to the next, imagine that there is an unseen narrator who is observing the action.
This does two crucial things. One, it smooths things out for the reader, because rather than taking into account multiple perspectives and biases, you're seeing things essentially from one point of view. The other is that it stops you from diving so deeply into one character that it's jarring to shift to another character's thoughts.
This omniscient narrator doesn't have to actually be a real, named character, but it's helpful to think of them this way so you tell the narrative through a consistent perspective.
4) The more the perspective is limited, the deeper the inner thoughts. The more omniscient the perspective, the shallower the thoughts
This isn't a hard and fast rule, but generally, if you have tied the perspective very closely to one character you can go as deep as you want into what they're thinking. It won't be jarring for the reader to see inner monologues, straightforward thoughts, etc.
If you have a more omniscient perspective that includes multiple characters, you may want to stick more to observing outside, physical actions and general, apparent emotions rather than diving too deeply into what multiple characters are thinking. This way we're seeing what's happening on the outside rather than having to wonder how it is that we're jumping around to what everyone is thinking.
Have you tried balancing multiple perspectives in a novel? How did you handle it?
Art: Hercules Killing the Hydra by Cornelis Cort
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
New York Times magazine has a fascinating article about people whose lives have been destroyed by ill-considered moments on the Internet and the virtual lynch mobs that descended upon them (something I've posted about in the past).
I find this phenomenon pretty terrifying, especially as someone who has blogged for eight years, written over a thousand posts, and said various things over the years that have either been stupid or completely misperceived or both.
Whatever you make of whether the people in the article "deserved" what they had coming to them, I have a hard time seeing how Internet vigilante justice is something that is any way beneficial.
What do you think? Do you trust that the punishment fits the crime? And once a virtual mob starts, how can you stop it?
Art: The Battle of San Jacinto by Henry Arthur McArdle
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
|Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.|
Hello! Nice to see you again.
After completing several different projects that were consuming a large portion of my time I'm hoping to now return to more normal blogging activities. Famous last words.
Anyway! I've been saving up links for the last million weeks and here is a roundup.
Don't you want to prepare for your inevitable life as a bestselling author? Of course you do. Here are 10 tips for being a bestselling author by Sophie Kinsella.
Exciting news as Jessica Faust from BookEnds has revived one of the best agent blogs out there. She also has some very solid advice, which essentially boils down to when in doubt, send the query.
Amazon released a new version of the Kindle, the Kindle Voyage, which Farhad Manjoo pronounced better than a hardcover.
Benjamin Dreyer, VP Executive Managing Editor & Copy Chief of Random House, has an awesome post explaining some of the very common things that trip up writers, like beside/besides, blond/blonde and much much more.
There were 458,564 self-published books in 2013. Yes, really.
Author Jennifer Hubbard had some interesting thoughts on writerly restraint, and how that can sometimes result in holding back.
There are agents and then there are schmagents. Natalie Lakosil breaks down the differences.
Last spring I attended a writer's conference in Wisconsin, and the director there, Laurie Scheer, recently published new book called The Writer's Advantage: A Toolkit for Mastering Your Genre.
At what age do writers publish their most famous works? Electric Literature has an awesome chart.
Whiskey! Healthy! Or so that article says!
Longtime editor turned journalist Daniel Menaker has an article in defense of editors.
And finally, SNL had a pretty hilarious sendup of recent YA movie tropes:
Have a good week!
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Friday, January 2, 2015
Like many people across America, I was totally captivated by the podcast "Serial," which, if you haven't yet been accosted by a raving fan, is about a 1999 murder and hinges on whether you believe one of the two former teenagers at the heart of the case: Adnan, in prison for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, and Jay, whose (frequently changing) testimony put Adnan there.
One of the most compelling elements of the show is the extent to which its host, "This American Life" vet Sarah Koenig, very transparently wears her biases on her sleeve. She doesn't believe, or doesn't want to believe, that Adnan did it. He's charming, she likes him, and she doesn't seem to be able to fully bring herself to think he committed the crime. But she's up front about those feelings, and her journey in the show is a huge part of what makes it so compelling.
It's been fascinating to discuss this show with friends and coworkers, because to a large degree it's almost a Rorschach Test for the way you view crime, criminals, heck, even life and the truth. You learn a lot about people just by hearing their opinions and what they experienced in the past that contributes to their views.
For instance, I'm heavily influenced by a murder that took place in my hometown, where I knew both the murderers and the victim, and it doesn't surprise me at all, as it seems to surprise Koenig, that it's possible someone could be both charming and a murderer. I also to this day remember so many details of finding out about that murder in my hometown, which happened more than fifteen years ago, that I find it hard to believe that Adnan wouldn't be able to remember what happened on the day the police asked him about his missing ex-girlfriend. It wasn't just some random day.
Many people have written of the biases of the show, but one element of bias that I haven't seen fully addressed is the bias of the good story.
It's not a great story if we found out the guy who is behind bars for committing a crime is the one who committed the crime. If Koenig had discovered conclusive proof around Episode 2 that Adnan committed the crime, there wouldn't have really been a show, and certainly not the most popular podcast of all time. Sure, Koenig likes Adnan and that may have influenced her, but to me what really seemed to drive her was a sense on her part, even a hope, that there was more to the story. Consciously or unconsciously, in the absence of proving Adnan's innocence outright, she had every incentive to leave as many threads dangling as possible.
So while Koenig dove deep into possibly exculpatory inconsistencies in Jay's various testimonies (which, to be fair, were wildly inconsistent) and into things like whether there really was a pay phone at a Best Buy, other things that in Koenig's parlance were "bad for Adnan," like the letter from Hae that told him to back off and which had the words "I will kill" scrawled on it, and the "Mr. B." who pled the fifth at the grand jury, received scant attention. When she did dive deep into "bad for Adnan" threads they felt oddly tangential to the heart of the story, like whether Adnan absconded with mosque funds.
The facts as they have been presented certainly cast doubt on whether Adnan was fairly convicted, and if anything is gained from the popularity of the show, I hope a sober reexamination will take place. But I also lack confidence that the "bad for Adnan" threads were pursued, or treated, with equal vigor.
That's partly why I was equal parts compelled and unnerved when listening to "Serial," and extremely uncomfortable when reading Jay's recent interviews with The Intercept and wondering what Hae's family must think. These are real lives being disrupted and very painful memories being resurrected for a murky purpose. Is this entertainment? Journalism? An uncomfortable mixture?
And sure, let's get this mandatory part out of the way. Based on everything I have heard, I lean toward thinking Adnan committed the crime though am doubtful I would have voted to convict if I were on the jury. But it makes me uncomfortable to even type those words. Who am I to even have an opinion about all of this?
Have you listened to the show? What do you think?
Monday, December 22, 2014
It's that time of year!
This is the sixth year in a row for this Heifer fundraiser, and while I haven't been the best about posting lately we can still join together to raise money for a great cause, amrite?
Here's how this works. All you have to do is:
1) Leave a comment on this post AND/OR
2) Tweet a link to this post and include the hashtag #NBHeifer. Here's a tweet button for your pleasure:
3) Click over to other participating blogs at the bottom of this post and leave comments there too
4) Make your own per-comment or tweet pledge and I'll link to you/tweet you!
If you want in on the fun and make a per-comment or tweet pledge on your own just leave a comment with a link to your blog post or tweet announcing your pledge or e-mail it to me and I'll feature it in this post. (I recommend Rowfeeder for tracking your hashtag).
Heifer International is an organization that fights hunger by giving families around the world livestock, training, or other assistance that helps improve their livelihood. Heifer has been recognized for its work in Fast Company and Forbes, among other places.
If you have anything to spare this holiday season I hope you'll consider making a donation. And in order to encourage people to spread the word about this worthy cause, there are two ways to help increase the giving love (and feel free to do both):
- For every comment someone makes in this post between now and 6PM Pacific time on December 24, I will donate $2.00.
- For every tweet that includes a) the hashtag #NBHeifer and b) a link back to this post (http://bit.ly/1wB6KpE) I will donate another $2.00. (up to $2,000 between the two)
Participating blogs/Twitter handles:
My Karma Ran Over My Dogma