Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, January 2, 2015

Can we talk about "Serial?"

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

6th Annual Heifer International Fundraiser

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):
  1. For every comment someone makes in this post between now and 6PM Pacific time on December 24, I will donate $2.00. 
  2. For every tweet that includes a) the hashtag #NBHeifer and b) a link back to this post ( I will donate another $2.00. (up to $2,000 between the two) 
We can encourage everyone to stop by so we can multiply the giving! Over the past years we have raised over $9,000 together.

Thanks, everyone!

Participating blogs/Twitter handles:

My Karma Ran Over My Dogma

Monday, December 8, 2014

Will you ever buy mostly e-books? The results!

It seems that one-fourth of the population just really, really likes paper books.

For the fourth consecutive year we are seeing a steady number of people willing to risk the displeasure of our future robot overlords by reveling in the pleasures of paper. In fact, there was even a slight uptick in the number of people who say we can pry their paper books out of their cold dead hands (all caveats about different samples, non-scientific poll etc.):

2007: 49%
2008: 45%
2009: 37%
2010: 30%
2011: 25%
2012: 25%
2013: 25%
2014: 28%

And similarly, a slight reversal in the pro-e-book crowd:

2007: 7% (!)
2008: 11%
2009: 19%
2010: 32%
2011: 47%
2012: 47%
2013: 49%
2014: 44%

One thing that's interesting to note is the extent to which this could be a device-driven trend. The first Kindle, of course, was released in 2007 and gathered steam shortly thereafter, and Apple introduced the iPad in 2010. Since then we haven't seen technological innovation when it comes to e-books, and publishers have mostly successfully resisted a decline in e-book prices that could have spurred further e-book adoption.

What do you think is behind these numbers? Are some people just really never going to make the switch? Or is there a technological/economic explanation?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Will you ever buy mostly e-books?

Eighth! Annual! Poll!

I think we need a moment, guys. Eighth. Annual. Some of you probably voted in the first poll, or maybe you missed that one and voted in the second or third, but holy cow! Where did the time go?!

And where in the heck are the flying cars? It's 2014, we should be reading holograms in space or something.

Ahem. Meanwhile, there is a poll that YES WE KNOW is not scientific and is not directly applicable to previous years, but even though I say that every single year there will still be a commenter who insists on pointing out that this poll is not scientific and is not directly applicable to previous years. You may be the commenter who after eight years still insists on pointing this out, and I have to say I kind of begrudgingly love you.

Here are polls past, in case you are curious:

2008 (technically the beginning of '09)

And here is this one. Vote if you dare! Oh, and yes, it's 2014 but you'll still need to click through to the actual post if you're reading this via e-mail or in a feed reader.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What the cover of "About a Girl" says about today's publishing world

The traditional publishing industry is located in one of the most liberal cities in America. On the whole its employees skew left.

Still, while homosexuality has been explored in YA novels for quite some time, it still says something that the cover for my friend Sarah McCarry's About a Girl felt like something new.

The traditional YA world pushed content boundaries in the '90s and '00s, becoming increasingly comfortable with realistic, even graphic portrayals of teenage sexuality. The industry also started putting racy covers on YA novels where sexuality was barely even a tangential part of the story.

And yet even with those boundaries redrawn, something as simple as two fully-clothed girls kissing on a cover is something that somehow has eluded the industry's norms.

We need diverse books, and one important step is for the publishing industry to get over its squeamishness about putting minorities and non-straight characters on book covers. Hopefully About a Girl is a sign that we're one step closer.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Amazon vs. Hachette: It's over

It's over.

Long story short, Hachette won the ability to set its own prices, and the deal roughly aligns with the one Amazon negotiated with Simon & Schuster.

Here are some of the reactions around the Internet:

NY Times
Mike Shatzkin
Publishers Lunch (subscription required)

My sources tell me that we haven't read the last blog post about how traditional publishers are the guardians of truth and Amazon is the root of all evil or that traditional publishers are antiquarian luddites and Amazon is saving the world for readers.

Stand by...

Art: Club Night by George Bellows

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Everything you need for NaNoWriMo

Na-No! *Clap Clap*

Wri-Mo! *Clap Clap*

Na-No! *Clap Clap*

Wri-Mo! *Clap Clap*

Yes, it's that time of year! Time for tens of thousands intrepid souls to ignore friends, family and pumpkin spice everything in order to write themselves a novel.

National Novel Writing Month!!

Some of you might be writing your first novel, some of you might be writing your tenth, but it will be a great experience for everybody.

Here are some resources that might help.

First and most importantly, all of my very best writing tips are contained in my guide to writing a novel: How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Ultimate Novel You Will Love Forever. The great James Dashner, author of The Maze Runner, said these kind words:
"In his 47 brilliant rules, Nathan Bransford has nailed everything I've always wanted to tell people about writing a book but never knew how. Wonderfully thought out with lots of practical examples, this is a must-read for anyone brave enough to try their hand at a novel. It's also a great review for experienced writers. Highly recommended."
Check it out!

However, if you prefer your advice for free you have also come to the right place! Here are some posts that will help you along the way:

How to write a novel (overview)
How to choose an idea for a novel
How to get started writing a novel
How to find a writing style that works for you
How to get over writer's block
Make sure your characters have goals and obstacles
All about conflict
Seven keys to writing good dialogue
What makes a great setting
Do you have a plot?
Five ways to stay motivated
The solution to every writing problem that has ever existed
Writing Advice Database

Good luck!!

Monday, October 27, 2014

In which I took an unplanned but happy break from writing

This happened! I'm on Instagram here.
I didn't intend to take nearly a month off of blogging and writing entirely, but that is exactly what ended up happening. Thank you for your inquiries. The missing person report was perhaps a little excessive, but nonetheless appreciated.

One of the interesting things about being a blogger and writer is that you have to wring your life like a wet towel and see if you can find some spare droplets of time. Lately my life towel has been bone dry. I haven't even been on Twitter!

Things like this can happen to any writer:
  • My day job is going so great that I am throwing my brain into it with reckless abandon and leaving myself with little spare mental energy for side projects.
  • Oh, but I do have side projects! I'm taking a General Assembly class on product management in order to help me develop great websites for my day job. It's been an excellent learning experience.
  • And I've been freelance editing, which has been really fun! It's great to be working directly with authors again.
  • And then I went on vacation (see above photo).
Writing? What's that again? 

Sometimes you can wake up and look around and you haven't written a word for two months. And it can spark a bit of an identity crisis. 

"I'm a writer! I write! I'm not writing! What am I doing?"

And sometimes it feels like you get divided so thin that your passion projects don't receive that laser focus that they need to come to fruition.

Then I try to remind myself that it all comes together in the end. Things are going well. I'm happy. I'm getting things done.

Sometimes the writing can wait.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Want a free query critique or copy of How to Write a Novel? Let's chat!

UPDATE 12:04: My slate is now full! Thank you so much to everyone who reached out!

I'm working on a very interesting project for a very interesting General Assembly class on product management, and I would love 10-15 minutes of your time today (Saturday) or tomorrow (Sunday) to ask you a few questions. Yes, you! Let's talk!

In exchange, I will give you a free query critique OR a copy of How to Write a Novel.

We'll chat briefly about your experience having your writing critiqued, in addition to such completely optional topics as bad reality television, the weather in your locale in comparison to the weather in Brooklyn (which is fabulous, thanks for asking), and the iPhone 6 ZOMG the iPhone 6.

If you're interested, please shoot me an e-mail at nathan [at ] Offer is good for the first ten people.

Thank you!

Art: A Conversation by Vladimir Makovsky

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Past Few Week in Books 9/19/14

Photo by me. I'm on Instagram here.

First up, friend of the blog Stephen Parrish is conducting a fundraiser to establish a fellowship in honor of Christine Eldin, a beloved member of the writing community who passed away a few years ago. Please check out the fellowship page, as well as the fundraising page on Indiegogo, where there are many quality items up for bid.

Now that Amazon has launched Amazon Unlimited, the Netflix-for-books-ish subscription service, should self-published authors opt their books in? David Gaughran investigates.

Speaking of Amazon, they recently launched a new program aimed at making it easier for children's book authors to self-publish, with such features as text pop-ups and easier illustration insertion. Very interesting.

Have independent bookstores improbably weathered the e-book transition better than chain stores and are they even on the rise? Zachary Karabell makes the case in Slate.

Do elite MFA programs have a race problem? NPR took an in-depth look.

Don't forget about the discussion forums, where you can have your query critiqued and talk writing with some great authors!

Why in the world does everyone in dystopian movies wear knitwear? Vulture takes a look at the great moments in Dystopian knitwear.

And finally, today is iPhone 6 release day! My good friends at CNET have all the latest reviews. Now if you'll excuse me, I have an iPhone 6 to play with.

Have a great weekend!

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