Flash Fiction: a complete story
in one thousand or fewer words.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Tikatok is a print-on-demand web site for kids, now owned by Barnes & Noble. The site has easy templates for creating a book with text and pictures. For those looking for help finding an idea, Tikatok has some "worlds" (StorySparks), to help generate ideas, such as animals and bugs, holidays and vacations, princesses and fairy tales, and school and family. They're also associated with Build-a-Bear, so children can write stories for that setting (although Build-A-Bear owns the copyright to those stories).

Children will need parents to set up the accounts for parent and child, and decide if the site is safe. From other sources, I believe (but am not certain), that parents will be notified by email of their children's actions. Once a book is created, it can be published in hardbound (starts at $18), softbound (starts at $15) and PDF formats ($3).

The web site could be more open with information. "Starts at $18" for hardcover books refers to additional costs, depending on the page count. The additional cost is not explained, except, presumably, once you start the publishing phase. There's little information about the control that the parent has on the process. One would hope that Barnes & Noble has or will vet this service closely.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

AgentInbox Writer-Agent Web Service

WEbook has started its AgentInbox web service to connect writers with agents. The basic process is:

  • A writer submits a query letter, synopsis and book chapters, as required by the agent.
  • AgentInbox editors verify that the submission formally meets the agent's requirements.
  • AgentInbox forwards the submission material to the agent (without comment on its quality), or returns it to the writer for formal correction.
  • If the work is forwarded to the agent, the writer and agent communicate directly, as if they'd connected conventionally.

AgentInbox is a beta service and is currently gratis. They have quite a few noted agents signed up and one landed writer/agent contract as of the time of posting. Some of the agencies represented by the thirty or so participating agents include Jill Grinberg Literary Management, Writers House, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates, the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency, and others.

Here are two articles that review AgentInbox:


Since I was unfamiliar with WEbook, it took me awhile to realized that WEbook's author community and AgentInbox were completely separate services. WEbook gives authors a place to review each others' manuscripts; completed/polished stories may be voted on and published by WEbook. Most commentators consider WEbook a form of self-publishing.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

3D Mandelbrot Sets (and Cyberpunk)

This article is about the mathematical/software algorithmic breakthrough to produce 3D Mandelbrot sets. We've all seen the 2D computer-generated, swirling, never-ending graphical patterns that have visual and scientific appeal. They are fractals that produce rich detail in both dimensions regardless of the level of zooming into the picture.

(What's this got to do with flash fiction, you're wondering? Well, this article has turned into sort of a Mandelbrot set of its own.)

This article on 3D Mandelbrot sets ('Mandelbulbs') gives a very accessible background of 3D Mandelbrot sets and provides many stunning graphics including some videos showing a 'zoom-in' of a 3D image. In the Opening Pandora's Box for the Second Time section, you'll see that Rudy Rucker gave some of the earliest thought about the production of 3D Mandelbrot sets. He is an American mathematician and computer scientist, now on faculty at San Jose State University. Readers of Flash Fiction Online may also recognize him as a founder of the cyberpunk science-fiction movement and an author.

Traveling along this path...Flash Fiction Online readers and writers may also be interested in Rudy Rucker's A Writer's Toolkit (PDF) which is his "working notes for teaching writing workshops, newly revised on September 3, 2009." In the writing section of Rudy Rucker's personal web site, you'll also find his essays and speeches on writing (including 'what is cyberpunk,' a sometimes elusive term), web pages for his books, extensive notes on his "almost book-length" notes on his novels and non-fiction books, his online writings, and much more.

Okay, I'm lost. I can't find my way back to the thread of this article. My algorithm must be defective. Sorry. If you happen to see the rest of my article, please send me a URL.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Plagiarism Software Attributes Play to Shakespeare

A software program used to detect plagiarism by students was refocused in an interesting way on literary research. The program was used to verify that Shakespeare plagiarized himself, so to speak, thereby attributing the play, Edward III, to Shakespeare. It also attributes a co-writer, Thomas Kyd. Here is a Yahoo! News story on the use of plagiarism software to attribute Edward III to Shakespeare.

Note that at the time of posting, the Wikipedia article on Edward III did not have a reference to this development. According to that article (and the Yahoo! article), this play was often attributed to Shakespeare. This free plagiarism tool, Pl@giarism, adds some weight to that attribution. The software is from Erasmas Universiteit Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Elements of Style Turns 50

What? You claim to be a writer, avid reader or student and don't have a Strunk and White's Elements of Style on your shelf? Shame. You can make up for your sin with a 50th anniversary edition.

Stand by please...I didn't have one on my shelf so I corrected that failure. Um, I'd like to redact what I said earlier, in view of my new acquisition:

What is it that you are saying? You claim to be a writer, avid reader or student, and yet you do not have a copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style on your bookshelf? Shame on you. You can and may make amends for your sin with a fiftieth anniversary edition of the book.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Auto-Collaborative Tool?

Can you collaborate with yourself on fiction, or any other complicated project? If you have a defective memory like the present bloggist, yes. If you carry a mini-notebook in your pocket or pocketbook because you wouldn't have any short-term memory without it, yes. You can collaborate with the person whose memory state was different a few days ago than now, and that person is you.

Without impugning another's memory, I know of at least one anthology editor who is using TiddlyWiki to help organize his editorial notes. TiddlyWiki is a single-file wiki that you can carry with you on a flash memory stick or post on a web site. Since it is based on HTML and JavaScript, it works with most browsers and most operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS and Linux.

You can use it for entirely personal work or to collaborate with others. The main feature is that it is small and easy to use, yet has impressive capabilities, including plug-ins and themes...and is free, as in free beer and free speech (BSD license). The TiddlyWiki site has a number of examples (see left sidebar on the TiddlyWiki site) created by users. Some look like a traditional web site and others like a wiki. Several examples were writerly sites used to create hyperlinked fiction and poetry or to help organize a story.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Interactive Fiction

Interactive fiction (IF): yes, those text adventure games of the past with their twisty-passages . IF is a story with a puzzle in which the reader/player participates in the outcome. Less literate, graphical adventure games nearly choked text games out of existence, but the Internet provided a nesting ground where this game genre could renew itself with new authoring tools and enthusiasm.

Many authoring tools are free. Though a little geeky, the tools are accessible to many and on about any OS. The author creates the work and puts it an interpreter wrapper (such as a blorb or Zcode) so that any compliant player (such as Frotz) can play the work. (I didn't make this up.)

Inform is one of the major providers of authoring tools. The stalwart Inform 6 has a procedural programming language with a long history. The newer Inform 7 has a new natural language that non-geeks might warm up to.


Using Inform 7, you define your world, characters, locations, objects, movements, and events using English-like phrases: Miss Pelling is a person. Miss Pelling wears a black hat and a red dress. The basement is a room. The basement has a broadsword. A broadsword is a type of weapon. Many share their inventions (such as a complete description of an animal or place) in the form of an extension to Inform. Emily Short has a treasure trove of information and sample games; she worked closely with the author of Inform.

My personal interest is to create a simple game that is really an interactive fiction reader (an eBook reader) for more traditional but interactive stories, as might be done with web (hypertext) fiction. The writer would use built-in features to add constraints or features to her story with which the reader may tune the story to taste, such as less/more/minimum/maximum violence, darker to lighter storyline, alternate endings, movie-like ratings, etc. Other authors could add extensions as needed because the language is self-defining.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

Open Source Software for Writers (and Readers)

Open source software is, as the software developers say, free, as in free beer and freedom to change yourself. Here is a nice list of software tools for writers. I think many readers will find a treat or two there too. Some easy choices from the list are Open Office Writer, a Microsoft file-compatible word processor (Windows, OS X and Linux). Open Office Calc is an Excel file-compatible spread sheet, though not mentioned, useful for tracking subs).

I've seen much praise for the first item in the list, but haven't tried, yWriter a word processor for writers (Windows only, but I may try it under OS X with VMware Fusion). Another on the list that I know by its good reputation is Scribus (for desktop publishing, Windows, OS X and Linux). NVU (web publishing, Windows, OS X and Linux), seems to be a frozen project, but a bug-fixed version is here at KompoZer.

Also see the earlier post on EtherPad, for collaborating on the web. In the comments you'll see that FFO's artist-in-residence and writer, Richard Ware, found this useful in one of his writing collaborations. This is not open-sourced, but is free to use, presently.

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