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

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Can Video Games Be Art?

No. Sorry.

Well, that's what noted movie reviewer Roger Ebert says. Video games are scripted to have a story with alternate story lines and outcomes, so they have potential to be art, if any literature does. Video games also have visual components, so they have potential to be art, if any visual media does. And they have audio components....bad ones, usually, but they have them.

With all this pent-up potential brewing, why does Roger Ebert think they can never be art.

Here is Mr. Ebert's article, videos games can never be art in his column at his home stomping grounds, the Chicago Sun-Times.

It is not surprising that consideration about this is crippled a bit by the difficulty of defining art...you know it when you see it, but people see differently.

Mr. Ebert invited a thoughtful video designer, Ms. Kellee Santiago, to be the foil for this discussion...in fact, so that it can be a discussion rather than an edict. He provided a link to her 15-minuted video on video games, which was made prior to Ebert's stand on the matter. She provides three examples that she considers artful and compares the maturation of video games to the progression of cave drawings to art.

That's said, Ebert remains firm on the matter: a video game is a game and will never be art, but concedes that never is a long time:

"One obvious difference between art and games is that you can win a game. It has rules, points, objectives, and an outcome. Santiago might cite a immersive game without points or rules, but I would say then it ceases to be a game and becomes a representation of a story, a novel, a play, dance, a film. Those are things you cannot win; you can only experience them."

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Friday, April 16, 2010

How Writers and Artists Work

Here is short but amusing collection of tidbits: a graphical image from Lapham's Quarterly, showing where and how some well-known writers and artists work. There are only a few noted, so I'll mention one:

Edith Wharton wrote in bed until noon, tossing her pages on the floor for a secretary to pick up and transcribe.

For the rest go here to learn how writers and artists work.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Author Barry Hannah RIP

I had the good fortune of meeting Barry Hannah a few times when he was teaching at Clemson University. I then managed to get a signed copy of his first novel Geronimo Rex, which he had just published. He was a Faulkner-styled Southern Gothic writer with quite a gift for short fiction. Geronimo Rex was a National Book Award nominee and William Faulkner Prize winner; his short fiction collections netted him the PEN/Malamud Award.

Here is an oft-quoted bit from the 1972 New York Times review of Geronimo Rex, the review written by writer Jim Harrison of Legends of the Fall fame. Harrison said that Hannah was a writer

“brilliantly drunk with words [who] could at gunpoint write a life story of a telephone pole.”

This quote was in each of several articles I read about Barry Hannah's death, including the excellent one in Vanity Fair. Hannah struggled with cancer and drinking, the former one finally winning.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Jay Lake's Novel-Publishing Time Line

By way of PW's Genreville blog is writing machine Jay Lake's novel publishing time line, from his perspective and the publisher's perspective.

I have a problem with this Jay:

Months 1-2 — I draft a book.
Months 3-4 — I redraft the book.

We're talking a full-length novel, right? Not a flash novel? Here's my time line:

Months 1-2: It were a dork and starmy night.
Months 3-4: It was a dark and stormy night.
Months 5-6: Try to come up with an idea....

I also have a problem with this:

Month 11 — Agent issues acceptance check to me, less commission.

What agent? Sigh.

Jay illustrates well why it takes so long for a novel to go from the first peck on the Royal to a bookseller putting the book on the wrong shelf. He also explains why he doesn't self-publish, even though some argue that he could make more money going that path. It's a good read.

Go here to see Jay Lake's Flash Fiction Online story.

Bonus via Kathy: British UFOs! (CNN covered it but The Guardian didn't. Hmmm.)

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Cultural Shift? Plagiarism vs. Remixing

Here is an interesting story about a 17-year-old uber-author in Germany who is successful while withstanding a charge of plagiarism...but she calls it mixing.

Some background: (re)mixing has many contexts. In music, it is the mixing of sound tracts into an alternative form of the work. In literature, the most obvious meaning is that used in the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license, in which others may "remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial reasons, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms." A publisher of one of Yours Truly's stories used the non-commercial form of this license for their anthology.

According to this NYT story, 17-year-old German author Helene Hegemann has a staged play and a script for a theatrically distributed movie to her credit, and now a well-selling novel (5th in Spiegel's best-seller list). However, someone pointed out that pieces of her novel, sometimes page-length) were lifted with little change from other works. Naturally a controversy arose. But even an important literary prize staff has overlooked this problem with her work and are still considering it. They apparently felt that the story was new and important enough, even with the copied passages, to justify continued consideration. The author says she did not plagiarize. She mixed. This is what people do now in the world of the always-connected Internet.

Is she right? Has the standard of plagiarism irrevocably changed or shifted?

For more on this story, see the NYT article, entitled, "Author, 17, Says It's 'Mixing,' Not Plagiarism."

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Writing Novels vs. Working at McDonalds

Here's a short humor piece from The Rumpus about the so-called business of writing novels. Because the piece is so short, I won't say much. Suffice it to say that writing novels for a non-living is only slightly better than working for McDonalds.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Dan Brown's Next Inspiration?

Perhaps the next Angels and Demons-type movie, based on a Dan Brown novel, or the next National Treasure-type Disney movie, written by too many to mention, will be inspired by this interesting little article in National Geographic: Lost Roman Codex Fragments Found in Book Binding.


According to the article, it was the practice in the sixteenth century to strengthen the binding of new books from scraps of old paper. One collector bought some interesting two-inch square scraps and loaned them to scholars at University College London.

"But a few of the phrases matched passages in the Justinian Code, compiled in the sixth century, leading the team to conclude that the unfamiliar sections were from a source text: the Codex Gregorianus."

Codex Gregorianus (Gregorian Code) is a set of compilations of antique Roman law, including those of Hadrian and earlier law.

I wouldn't be surprised to see this motif show up in a Dan Brown type of book. Perhaps one of Flash Fiction Online's past or future writers (or an inspired reader) will beat the big boys to the punch with a much more economical flash fiction story.

For more interesting details about this find, go to the full National Geographic article on lost Roman law codices.

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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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Monday, January 25, 2010

Harper's inkpop Writing Site for Teens

The HarperTeen imprint of HarperCollins has launched a writing site for teens, inkpop. This site allows teen members to post their short fiction, novels, poetry and non-fiction for evaluation by the inkpop community. In theory, the creme that rises to the top is considered by HarperCollins spotters for publishing contracts. I saw a few older users participating, including a twenty-seven year old.

Users must log in to see submissions, so the authors' first publication rights are preserved, as one would expect from a major publisher. The inkpop site's right of passage is in its well-hidden explanation of the service. Look at their About Us link at the bottom of the web page.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

75 Books for Writers (and Readers)

My theory is that if a book is useful to a writer, then it is useful to an avid reader. Most of them anyway. Here is a blog post at OnlineUniversities.com with a compiled list of 75 books of particular interest to writers. The blogger arranged the books into 9 categories which, of course, overlap somewhat: writing basics, advice from authors, improving your writing, grammar, references, writing as a career, genre or format specific, classics, and creativity and motivation.

It seems to be a good list. All of my spot-check selections were in the list: Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, Strunk & White (woe be it if that weren't there) and a couple others.

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Story Openings

Writers are (or should be) obsessed with the opening of a story, whether long or short fiction. There are websites devoted to the discussion and review of the opening 13 lines or so to make sure it has a hook to snag the reader, or more importantly, an editor or agent, reeling them in to the second page. Why is an editor or agent more important than the reader? Legend has it that the reader will never see the work if an editor or agent with a stack of "slush" to the ceiling does not turn that first page of a manuscript, which traditionally has 13 lines. Hatrack River Writers Forum (associated with Orson Scott Card) is devoted to the opening, where no syllable goes unnoticed, and Evil Editor's Blog has an opening review feature where he and his evil minions pour over your innocent work.

Have you been rejected by Jeff Vandermeer?

Um, yes. More than once. Why do you ask?

Well, then, you'll want to go here to exact your revenge on the man: he's exposed the opening of his novel, Finch, to public scrutiny.

You needn't say more. Later.

But I will. He's doing a series on the writers' craft, the story-opening post being the second of that series.




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Monday, January 4, 2010

What to Say to Writer Friends

If your friend is Stephen King, this post is not for you. This post is for friends of a fledgling writer (whose first book was not a best seller), especially those working on their first book. Best sellers add a shield of invulnerability to the writer.

If you made it through that maze of hurdles, get a life. (Just kidding.) Here is a humorous blog post for friends of writers with two or fewer non-fiction or fiction works under their belt. The bloggist, Michael Melcher, offers advice about what to say and what not to say to a fledgling writer friend. He is a lawyer, so I won't copy much of his work here.

Okay, I'll risk a little bit of his advice:

  • It's okay to say: “I just ordered my copy and can’t wait to read it.”
  • It's not okay to say: "You should try to be an Oprah pick!"

I'll add a few things not to say:

  • How much did you make? Truthful answer: if unsold, a net loss of $75.00 for expenses. If sold, $0.15/hour, not including time stalking agents.
  • Is that character me? Truthful answer: you're too boring to be in any book. Or, yes, that's why I haven't sold it, yet.
  • Who did you sleep with to get it published? Truthful answer: Ouch. No dignified comeback possible for that one.
  • When is the movie coming out? Truthful answer: When Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard end their bidding war for it [begin mumbling] which will happen soon after they begin it.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

What Matters Now

Here is a free e-book, What Matters Now, that's making the rounds on the Internet. It's a collection of thoughts under a couple dozen categories. I think it can be best summarized using Apple Computer's ungrammatical slogan: Think Different.

Some of the thoughts are folksy, insightful or thought-provoking. I think there are many triggers here for flash fiction stories.

Here are a few examples:

Timeless:
Simplicity – if you can’t tell your brand story to a 9-year-old it’s no good.

Enough:
If you’re checking for new email every five minutes, that’s 24,000 times a year.

Re-Capitalism:
Marx read his Darwin, but he got it wrong--capitalism doesn't self-destruct, it adapts.

Ripple:
Educate a girl, and you educate her children and generations to follow.

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24 Ways To Annoy Readers

Readers may find it enlightening to see why a story they read is off-putting, and writers must know this: twenty-four ways to (avoid) annoying readers.

If you do a search on writing, it's difficult not to find dozens of similar articles on the sins of writers. The submissions editor at SF Crowsnest, Geoff Willmetts, has an article on common writing problems that is concise and covers many sins.

This is the first sin in the article not associated with formatting a manuscript, and is perhaps (IMHO), one of the greatest differentiators between amateur and pro writers:

4. Pace. If you want to create high tension and things that are moving in a hurry, shorten the length of your sentences. Have a run and then trying saying a long sentence. Doesn’t work, so you break it up even more. Writers who understand how to pace also know how to adjust the mood of the story. Boo! Did you see that coming? Frame the sentence to the events you’re depicting.

To mitigate against the risk of the author of the article finding this post and using it as an object lesson, I'll stop now. Here are the remaining 23 sins of writing.

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Monday, December 7, 2009

Harlequin Delisted from RWA and MWA

Background: these two FFO posts [1 2] gave the story of romance publisher Harlequin's dance with a self-publishing imprint, and the near-immediate threats from Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America and Horror Writers of America to delist Harlequin from their approved publishers list. The consequence of those actions would be that writers could not then use Harlequin publishing credits for membership into the those writers' professional organizations or participate in their awards programs. (There are speculative fiction subcategories in romance.)

Recently, Mystery Writers of America has delisted romance publisher Harlequin from its qualified publishers list, even though Harlequin removed its direct connection to the self-publishing arm by renaming it from Harlequin Horizons to DellArte Press. That link includes MWA's statement about their decision and Harlequin's reply. Earlier, Romance Writers of America delisted Harlequin, too, according to various sources. (The RWA requires a membership to read its breaking news section, so a link is not provided here.)

In a side note, here is an SFWA article (by way of Writers Beware) about the blurring of the distinction between self-publishing and vanity publishing.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Unacceptability Of Being Inappropriate

Here is an opinion piece about the increasing vagueness of the English language in many parts of the world since the 1980s. Prospect is an English publication launched by David Goodhart, a senior correspondent for the Financial Times, but the article seems to apply equally to other Western English-speaking countries. At issue is social engineering for the sake of political correctness of more exact terms like coarse, tactless, vulgar and lewd for institutional words like unacceptable and inappropriate. According to article writer Edward Skidelsky:

This linguistic shift is revealing. Improper and indecent express moral judgements, whereas inappropriate and unacceptable suggest breaches of some purely social or professional convention. Such “non-judgemental” forms of speech are tailored to a society wary of explicit moral language. As liberal pluralists, we seek only adherence to rules of the game, not agreement on fundamentals.

Several novels will come to mind to readers of speculative fiction. Go here for more on this shift to a neutralized English language, an article the author entitled, "Words that think for us."

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Virtual Author Assitants and Book Shephards

At the SFWA blog, Victoria Strauss posted an article for Writer Beware about virtual author assistants (VAAs). VAAs have taken a 30-day course to qualify them for a VAA certificate which, according to the course web site, enables them to:

...work behind the scenes to create, organize and coordinate all the different pieces necessary to get a book published.

See Victoria Strauss' analysis of virtual author assistants certification for more information. She also briefly compares VAAs to book shephards and offers this book shephard link to the Selling Books blog for further information.

Writer Beware also happens to have an article on Harlequin's new self-publishing imprint, which was recently reported on the FFO news blog.




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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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Monday, November 2, 2009

Asimov's I, Robot Sequels?

Here is a Keeping the Door article in two parts:

News: long after the death of Isaac Asimov, his estate has authorized I, Robot sequels, to be written by Mickey Zucker Reicher. The first will follow Dr. Susan Calvin, robopsychologist, in Robots and Chaos. The Guardian (UK) provides a bit more about the new series of I, Robot stories.

Commentary: the author of the Keeping the Door article, Australian technology journalist/editor Renai LeMay, provides an impassioned trilogy of rebuke of this move by Asimov's estate: he wonders if the relatively unknown author, Reicher, has the gravitas to stand in Asimov's substantial shoes; he believes the series of I, Robot books already stands on its own and needs no completion; and, he believes the estate is clueless about the genre, but not money-grubbing. (And then he got really mad.)

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Amusing Graphical Look At Twist Endings

Here is an amusing graphical representation of twist endings, plays in this case. Across the top of the graphic are various story ending types, such as deus ex machina, or story elements, such as a MacGuffin. Across the left side are various genres. The title is "Harvet Ismuth's 42 Essential 3rd Act Twists." This was produced by Internet cartoonist Dresden Codak, a pseudonym for Aaron Diaz (which could be confused with the Latin singer/actor of the same name). Codak also has a one off Caveman Science Fiction cartoon.

Bonus: rhetorical piece about the future of traditional book publishing, on the Galleycat blog of Media Bistro.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Having watched Spike Jonze's adaptation of Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, with a 9-year-old and a greater-than-35-year-old, I was curious what reviewers thought of it, but found something more interesting: Spike Jonze's and Maurice Sendak's thoughts on the Where the Wild Things Are project, thanks to Pitchfork.

The Sendak picture book is sparse in text. (The article linked above says it has ten lines.) The characters in the book have no individual personalities, while in the movie, several have a fairly complex personalities. It was fascinating seeing a three-minute read interpreted as a 90-minute animated moody art drama.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Odyssey Writing Workshop Online

SFscope reports that Odyssey Writing Workshop, a respected classroom-based writing program, now has some online writing workshop offerings. Individual online courses are not equivalent to the residential courses, but may be useful to many speculative fiction writers. The class size is limited to 14 students. The next course is Showing versus Telling in Fantastic Fiction, beginning January 6, 2010 with applications accepted from October 10 to December 10, 2009.

This course will be taught by Jeanne Cavelos, an author and editor, and winner of the World Fantasy Award for launching the Abyss psychological horror imprint at Bantam Doubleday Dell. She is the director and primary instructor at Odyssey.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Read the Top 250 Unproduced Hollywood Screenplays of 2008

Depending on your point of view, you may find this quite interesting (gosh, I get to read a bunch of good screenplays for free. Whoo hoo!) or depressing (I have to compete with how many screenplays for my Dark and Stormy Zombie Prom Night script?). IO9 had this short post on how to read the top 250 unproduced Hollywood screenplays for free.

Here is a brief synopsis of the screenplays from a 2008 post in the SlashFilm blog about scripts under consideration, referred to as the black list, which has an earlier perspective. You'll notice that a few of them were or are in the theater this year. I don't know if this list exactly matches the list of readable screenplays below, but there should be a large overlap.

Here is a collection of PDF files of the 2008 screenplays.

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Are You Smarter When You Write?

Are you smarter when you write than when you speak? Essayist Arthur Krystal thinks so. Writing is a different process than off-the-cuff speaking. He uses an anecdote about seeing a film of Vladimir Nobokov on a sound stage being interviewed. He had made an impressive reply to an question, but Krystal then noticed that Nobokov was using canned answers from index cards. Krystal says:

Hazlitt...remarked that he did not see why an author “is bound to talk, any more than he is bound to dance, or ride, or fence better than other people. Reading, study, silence, thought are a bad introduction to loquacity.”

Like most writers, I seem to be smarter in print than in person....I’m expressing opinions that I’ve never uttered in conversation and that otherwise might never occur to me.

Krystal also points out that writing is a more deliberate process, which may account for the differences in spoken and written communications. Here is the full New York Times essay on the question: are we smarter when we write?

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

National Punctuation Day: It Came/Went; We Missed It.

September 24 was National Punctuation Day. Dang'it'all; I missed it. The web site has basic punctuation information and gruesome photographs of public punctuation errors (and basic grammar errors that they couldn't pass up) on signage. My favorite: Danger: Explosive Dog Training in Progress. Poor dogs. It would seem that the poor apostrophe is the most abused mark.

Here is an article about the man who started National Punctuation Day.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Dan Brown Plot Generator

Dan Brown is in a love-to-hate crowd I wish I were in, which includes Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling, among others. I don't care to participate in the discussions that boil down to, yeah s/he sells millions, but s/he can't write. (I do enjoy it when one in this elite crowd criticizes another.)

(There has to be a) but...this is funny: a Dan Brown sequel generator. You select a bustling or history-soaked city and a scheming group (like the mafia, U.S. Postal Service, or Boy Scouts of America) and more quickly than lightning strikes on a dark and stormy night, you have a plot to a sequel.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Depression: What the Doctor Ordered for Writers

Maud Newton, editor and writer, former practicing attorney, and college loan payer, blogs that depression is useful for writers. Rather than something that needs fixing, depression promotes highly analytical thinking:

Depressed people, they contend, tend to “dwell on a complex problem, breaking it down into smaller components, which are considered one at a time.”

As an added bonus, it's a two-way street; writing is good for depression (quoting from Scientific American):

...expressive writing promotes quicker resolution of depression, and they suggest that this is because depressed people gain insight into their problems.

I can see a new book from this: 7 Habits of Highly Depressed Writers

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wiretapping for Writers and Readers

Wiretapping, to use a generic term that includes wired, wireless and other means of snooping, is a commonplace part of thrillers, mysteries and other genres. (Has anyone wiretapped an ansible, yet?) Here is a concise article on wiretapping, that includes modern forms (such as IP/Internet Protocol tapping) and addresses some of the ethical/legal aspects of it. The article has some related sidebar articles on data collection/sensing technology used in mobile phone systems and DRM (digital rights management).

By the way, the article is in acmqueue, one of the Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM's) publications. ACM is a respected professional organization for engineers in the computing industry.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

James Patterson a Writer or a Book Factory?

That was the question posed in a Forbes (online) article, prompted by James Patterson's $150M, 17-book deal with Hachette Book Group. Mr. Patterson will produce a mix of adult and YA books under this arrangement.

I have a comment: hey Hachette, you could've had me for $50M.

On the other hand, Mr. Patterson has a track record. Speaking of the CEO of Hachette, the Forbes article writer, Lauren Streib, said:

But Young got a bargain. Patterson's not a writer. He's a fiction (and non-fiction) factory. In 2008 he authored or co-authored seven books and in his 33-year career as a published author he's written 57. He sells an average of 20 million books per year.

The article has interesting comments about James Patterson's continuing hand in the design of his books, based on his ad agency background.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ten Myths of Science

This post is not about myths of science results, like: The Earth is (Flat, Round). It is about the process of science. This post may be interesting to SF readers and writers who wish to get the terminology straight, and is based on an article by William McComas at Bluffton University.

For example, in Myth 1:Hypotheses Become Theories Which Become Laws, the term hypothesis, though used fairly casually, has three common meanings, and therefore the usefulness of the word is ruined, as explained in Myth 2: A Hypothesis is an educated guess. Three terms suggested by the article writer to replace hypothesis are: generalizing hypotheses (tentative or trial laws), explanatory hypotheses (provisional theories), and predictions. Or, alternatively: speculative law, speculative theory, and predictions. With regards to the terms law and theory:

With evidence, generalizing hypotheses may become laws and speculative theories become theories, but under no circumstances do theories become laws.

Here is a list of the ten myths of science processes:

  • Myth 1: Hypotheses Become Theories Which Become Laws
  • Myth 2: A Hypothesis is an Educated Guess
  • Myth 3: A General and Universal Scientific Method Exists
  • Myth 4: Evidence Accumulated Carefully Will Result in Sure Knowledge
  • Myth 5: Science and its Methods Provide Absolute Proof
  • Myth 6: Science Is Procedural More Than Creative
  • Myth 7: Science and its Methods Can Answer All Questions.
  • Myth 8. Scientists are Particularly Objective
  • Myth 9: Experiments are the Principle Route to Scientific Knowledge
  • Myth 10: All Work in Science is Reviewed to Keep the Process Honest.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

The Greeks Have a Word for it: 'New' Literacy

We've heard it so often in the last few years: kids can't write any more. It may have been true. I remember seeing the most appalling writing from high school students. However, social networking, beginning with text mail, may have changed that.

According to a Wired story, researchers at Stanford University, led by Professor Andrea Lunsford, examined more than 14,000 samples of writing of college students, including academic writing, blogging, email and other forms of immediate communication and found that literacy had take a giant leap not seen ' since Greek civilization'. That's a weighty statement. The researchers attribute this to the large increase in the volume of writing now done by young people, primarily social networking. Prior to immediate forms of writing, people wrote infrequently. Another change is that this writing tends to be of the persuasive type, so the quality of the writing rises as the writers struggle to persuade their peers.

Here is the full article on the recent surge in literacy.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is Fantasy Insinuating Itself into Science Fiction?

FFO went all the way to the end of the universe for a link to this story. This National Post has an interesting article that questions whether fantasy is over-taking science fiction. (Of course it is because of Harry Potter.) More interesting are the examples of fantasy intruding into science fiction (which I assume makes it science fantasy). In the new Star Trek movie, which I enjoyed quite a bit, the characters invoked time travel via red matter, an unexplained substance. I remember uttering a WTH when that substance was introduced so casually. The National Post writer refers to this as a magic substance, and therefore fantasy, but at the same time undermines his argument a bit implying it was an instance of bad writing in the screenplay. I think it was more the latter and could have been replaced with a Time Travel button in the command module. It was annoying but didn't ruin the film. The article is enjoyable. Go there to see the writer's (Philip Marchand's) interesting comments about Carl Sagan's dance with the devil in Contact.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are You Good [checking email] At Multitasking?

Are you good at multitasking? Bad at it? If you're a reader, can you follow a novel while listening to the news or music, and thumping the brats? If you're a writer, can you write the next Great [American, Aussie, Brit,..., Ukrainian] Novel while posing at your real day job?

Stanford University begs to differ. Though unexpected, their test results show that people who consider themselves good multitaskers stink at it, while the more humble folk, who think they're rotten at it, excel by comparison. Here is Stanford University's report on multitasking research.

Their research left out poor souls like Yours Truly, who stink even at single-tasking.

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Funny Quotes from NPR

Some writers use interesting quotes as triggers for a story theme or story title. NPR (U.S.: National Public Radio), reports via their blog on a collection of quotes from If Ignorance Is Bliss, Why Aren't There More Happy People? by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson. Here are a few quotes that NPR cited:

Ninety percent of the politicians give the other 10 percent a bad reputation.
— Henry Kissinger

A politician is a statesman who approaches every question with an open mouth.
— Adlai Stevenson

Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich by promising to protect each from the other.
— Oscar Ameringer

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Is Science Fiction Dead?

Here is a thoughtful article about science fiction by Hugo Awards winner Kristine Kathryn Rusch, entitled, The Marketing Category is Dead! Long Live the Genre! The title tells it all. People are running away from the tainted genre of science fiction and buying or viewing something else entirely: science fiction dressed up in another wrapper. One of her examples was Time Traveler's Wife, a bestseller and now a movie. Rusch pointed out that critics of the book had to see a chiropractor after explaining why TTW was not a science fiction story. She gives other examples of books that defy simple classification in a tradition genre, since they are mashups of some combination of SF, romance, mystery, thriller or horror.

For the rest of the commentary, go The Internet Review of Science Fiction web site.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Neil Gaiman & Cory Doctorow: Giving Away Stuff Works

At SF/F publisher Tor's blog, Mur Lafferty briefly describes Neil Gaiman's and Cory Doctorow's WorldCon appearance where they share their experiences with giving away digital copies of their works as both a Nice Thing and a strategy for increasing sales. Neil Gaiman was the guest of honor at WorldCon. As noted previously on this blog, Doctorow is on the leading edge of digital rights philosophy and is well-known for sharing his work and seeing increased sales. Gaiman is now experimenting as well, and seeing positive results. (Being a Hugo/Nebula award winner might help, too.)

Here is the blog article on Gaiman and Doctorow at WorldCon.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

Bumbling Future Archeologists

Here is an interesting article by Hugo-nominated Frank Westfahl at the Locus Online site about bumbling archeologists of the future in science fiction. Most of the stories about future archeologists, according to Westfahl, are humor pieces in which the archeologists misinterpret what they find. Interestingly, one of the first such stories is by Edgar Allan Poe. Westfahl reckoned Poe ended that short story abruptly because, as a master storyteller, he knew it was going nowhere. There were only about four long works about future archeology, all of them about gross misinterpretation of the past, and none of them very good. Westfahl examines each of them. Here is a quote from one of the reviews:

As one example of their faulty conclusions, the archaeologists assert that "The Weans were probably not at all a friendly or hospitable people" based solely on two pieces of evidence. First is New York City's Statue of Liberty, whose "one arm upraised" is interpreted as a sign of "a threatening attitude." Second is the discovery of an "inscription" reading "the dodgers were shut out."

For the rest of the article, go here.

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

iPhone App to Novel

Okay...there are many paths to a novel. Your own life. Your relatives' lives. Something you heard on a bus...no, a train. Something you read in a Harry Potter novel...no, bad idea.

Here's an iPhone app, a game called Soul Catcher, that was worked into a novel. According to Publishers Weekly, the iPhone app sold about 25,000 copies, and now it's a novel.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Virtual Worlds Not Just for Gaming

An article at PhysOrg describes some university astrophysicists' presence on Second Life for research collaboration, the Meta Institute for Computational Astrophysics (MICA). Early participants include scientists from CIT, Drexel, MIT and Princeton and presently offer seminars and lectures, there, and have larger ambitions for collaborative research. While the social sciences may seem a better fit, MICA believes the improved mechanisms for visualization are a great advantage for physical scientists.

Speaking of the reluctance of the academic community to take virtual worlds seriously because of their association with gaming, Djorgovski said:

“This is incorrect; while these technologies got developed largely by the gaming industry, and there is certainly a lot of gaming going on, virtual worlds are something bigger: a general platform for all kinds of activities, ranging from entertainment to purely professional. Just like the Web itself.”

We've covered collaborative tools for writers and/or artists in the past, here at Flash News: Etherpad, Rate My Drawings, TiddlyWiki, and Whrrl. Virtual worlds seem like a potential for a roll-your-own collaborative tool for reading groups, writers and artists. (But don't forget to do some actual reading and writing.)


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Monday, August 3, 2009

Vonda MacIntyre's Pitfalls of Writing SF and Fantasy

Most writers have run across these pitfalls of writing science fiction and fantasy, but it's good to get a reminder now and then. Vonda MacIntyre's descriptions of these (currently) seven pitfalls are short and to the point. They include neologisms (Garfff brought a carrytab of steaming hot javening with boosem and sweetum on the side), Extreme Capital Abuse, sort of using an almost approximate spoken thing rather than a sensible word, etc.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Do You Write Like a Girl?

Apparently, an editor's opinion can be influenced by a writers' name. Here is a story at StoryTellersUnplugged about a writer who had a book publishing contract moving along nicely. Within six weeks, it took a turn south for a strange reason...no spoilers.

Bonus! Apparently, it's dangerous to text while driving (23-fold more dangerous). Who woulda thunk it?

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Kindle Indie Strikes Publishing Deal

Successful independent publishing is possible. Here is a short Tech Crunch article about a writer who self-published via Amazon's Kindle platform and later struck a publishing deal with Simon and Schuster.

A significant factor in his success (besides the apparent quality of the novel) was heavy self-promotion of his book (i.e., hard work).

Bonus!: Here is a write-up on the anticipated Apple MacPad, a competitor to the Amazon Kindle. Apple is trying to make the MacPad compelling even to current iPhone owners.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

How To Write a Novel

Nathan Bransford is a literary agent for Curtis Brown. His writing and publishing blog is widely acclaimed. He has an article by a guest on his blog, Victoria Mixon, an editor with an eclectic background in writing and editing. Her article is entitled, Everything You Need to Know About Writing a Novel, in 1000 Words. It's a flash non-fiction piece, so Flash Fiction Online readers will have perfectly tuned pacing to take full advantage of this excellent article.

She covers the Plot (including the opening hook and the five biggest mistakes made in plotting), Scenes (character, dialog, description, action), and Exposition.

She's young, though. She said nothing about turning on your computer. So you can thank for her for the good writing bits and FFO for saving you from pounding on your keyboard for hours wondering what's wrong.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Car Review on a Writing Site? Why, oh, Why?

I first saw reference to this Bugatti car-review article on Wired by way of SlashDot. It is a review of their new billionaire's club Veyron sports car that has a top speed of 245 MPH and acceleration to 60 mph in 2.5 seconds. You'd have to sell quite a few short stories to purchase one: $2.1 million. That's about $2000 per horsepower (8 liter, 1001 horsepower).

What's interesting about the article is the writing, which praises the amazing road performance of the car while an undercurrent flows that humorously rips Bugatti (owned by Volkswagen) for building the car.

The acceleration is so immediate you can feel your eyeballs deform under the G-forces. It's a sensation of isolationist joy, an out-of-body awareness that you're moving faster than the world can react. Bystanders vaguely remember seeing a flash of expensive paint a few seconds after you disappear over the horizon; entire generations of insects die on your prow. Passing other motorists becomes a dangerous entitlement that has you resenting oncoming traffic for hogging your "VIP lane" -- especially when you realize that you can outrun not only the 5-0's cruisers, but their helicopters, too....
It required the intellectual might of one of the largest and arguably smartest car companies in the world to birth a car that was not only faster than anything on the road, but easy enough to pilot that anyone could drive it. ("It killed my husband" is not the kind of country-club buzz that sells cars.)

I think at $2.1 million, they could have spent a few more microseconds coming up with a name for the car. Maybe give each owner a unique name or his car. (Yeah, this is a boy's toy.)

If you should meet an owner and feel pissy, I suggest these insults:

  • It's a Volkswagen, dude.
  • Where's the cupholder?

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest 2009 Results

It was a dark and stormy night, and while the vampires where out, prowling, howling like werewolves on a hot tin roof, totally unaware of the shenanigans in Congress that would take away their retirement benefits like a thief in the night, the...um...if forgot where I was going with this...oh, yeah, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest results for 2009 are in like butter on bread.

The winner is David McKenzie from Federal Way, Washington. Here is the start to his entry:

"Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the "Ellie May,...."

To see the rest of this winning entry and the runner-up, go here. There are also many genre category winners and runners up ("dishonorable mentions"), including science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, romance and others. Here is the start of the fantasy winner:

"A quest is not to be undertaken lightly--or at all!--pondered Hlothgar, Thrag of the Western Boglands, son of Glothar, nephew of Garthol, known far and wide as Skull Dunker, as he wielded his chesty stallion Hralgoth through...."

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Truth about Writers

This guy has some odd ideas about writers. He seems to think they waste a lot of time, so that by the end of the day, they've only done an hour or two of real work. That's just insulting. I read the first paragraph of the article and had to go for a walk before I read the next, to blow off some steam. The walk was tiring, so I *had* to stop at a coffee shop...research. By then, the morning was shot because of that guy, so I went to lunch. After lunch, I read the second paragraph, and that really ticked me off.

He ruined practically my whole workday. So now that my day job is over, I'll really be in a foul mood when I go home tonight to do some writing.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Stephen King's Text Message Horror Story

This is one of two posts today involving (U.S.) federal law with fiction-writing sidebars. In this story, Simon & Schuster sent text messages promoting a Stephen King book (Cell). In 2006, a woman who'd signed up for a ring-tone service with promotions for the service received a Stephen King book promotion. She alleged this violated consumer protection laws and sought a class-action suit.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that sending SMS messages potentially violates the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits companies from using automatic telephone dialing systems to make calls to cell phones unless the owners have consented.

This 2009 ruling reverses a previous one, equating text messages with voice calls. It is not clear from the story what the connection is between the Simon & Schuster text messages and the ring-tone service. It would seem that if the ring-tone service were serving unrelated ads to their customers, it would be the alleged culprit [unsolicited layman's view]. Here is the rest of this Media Post News article.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Fahrenheit 452, Don't Burn the Libraries

The legendary Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and much more, wouldn't burn books, but he might burn the Internet, according to this NYT article:

“The Internet is a big distraction,” Mr. Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles....“It’s distracting,” he continued. “It’s meaningless; it’s not real. It’s in the air somewhere.”

Mr. Bradbury had other thoughts about Yahoo's request to publish one of his books on the Internet. (Hint: he was not an advocate.) See the NYT article for the rest.

But Mr. Bradbury is wholly in favor of public libraries, where he got a substantial education for free, since he received no advances for his future books as a young man during the Great Depression. He's putting in his time as an octogenarian raising money for some Ventura County (California) libraries that are facing closure due to reduced property tax income which supports libraries, among other things.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Shrinking/Bulldozed U.S. Cities: a Writing Opportunity

This Telegraph (UK) article describes the real- and thought-experiments on bulldozing the shrinking (mostly rust belt) U.S. cities down to a manageable size. The shrinking population of these industrial areas can not support the infrastructure designed for larger populations. Better to bulldoze them and return them to the environment than poorly manage them, they think. The article is good; go there for more details.

Now, what can a writer do with this information?

  • Crime: what fellows will the bulldozing crews dig up from under the roads and building foundations? Who stands to gain and lose the most from these activities? What will they do about it?
  • Thrillers: who will find themselves caught in a building about to be demolished?
  • SF: what pods, spaceships and ancient cities will be unearthed?
  • Fantasy/Horror: zombies, vampires and politicians.
  • Romance: (you have to get those demolition contracts somehow)

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Most SF/Fantasy-Like Cities on Earth

You want to write a SF story but don't want to event a world. What to do? What until tomorrow; that always works. Or go to Shared Worlds' article by Jeff VanderMeer and see what some SF/F authors think are the most SF-fantastical cities here on Earth. I can imagine they'd good horror settings as well.

Elizabeth Hand votes for Reykjavik, Iceland. Ursala K. LeGuin likes Venice, Italy. Michael Moorcock thinks Marrakesh, Morocco is the best choice. And there are others. But why these cities? Go to the article to find out, but here a sample from Hand on Reykjavik:

It's more like an off-world colony than any place on Earth. Architecture that consists largely of corrugated metal and concrete (think Quonset huts), a dauntingly inhospitable landscape –lava flows, cliffs, glaciers, hot springs, immense waterfalls....

Shared Worlds is a two-week interdisciplinary workshop at Wofford College focused on creating shared worlds. Jeff VanderMeer is an assistant director and instructor there, and has done everything else, too.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Disney/Pixar's "Up" Movie: Lessons for Writers

Since my movie viewing is under the control of a nine-year-old, I had seen several trailers for Disney/Pixar's "Up." The trailer wasn't that appealing to me but it was inevitable that I would see the movie (and I haven't even seen the new Star Trek movie!).

Wow, was I surprised. I think the movie is a must-see for writers, particularly of short fiction, to see how quickly and fully a writer can paint a compelling character. I'm particularly talking about the Ellie character, who in a short time on screen, grew from 'tween to gray-haired old lady, tugging at you every step of the way.

Here is a snippet from Variety's review of "Up," the movie:

Tale of an unlikely journey to uncharted geographic and emotional territory by an old codger and a young explorer could easily have been cloying, but instead proves disarming in its deep reserves of narrative imagination and surprise, as well as its poignant thematic balance of dreams deferred and dreams fulfilled.

And this:

...in less than five minutes, encapsulates the life-long love affair between Carl Fredericksen and his wife Ellie in a manner worthy of even the most poetic of silent-film directors.

The review says little else about the character of Ellie, because as the second snippet reveals, she enters and leaves the movie very quickly, but who was for me the highlight of the movie.

I'll bow to the Variety review for the rest of the story.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Future of Science: Where's My Jetpack?

In March, we covered Gary Westphal's thoughtful piece about why science fiction writers have failed to predict the future. He gave 7 fallacies that plague SF writers. We also did a piece on Bruce Sterling's thoughtful look at the future of science fiction.

CNN has a piece that is more "where's my jetpack?" The article writer looks more at how the future failed the technologies than what has gone wrong with SF writers. The jetpack is one example. We've actually made some, but they haven't found a practical civilian or military application. In the military, a warrior in a jetpack is an obvious and easy target, and the jetpack lasts an embarrassingly short period of time.

Other technologies visited in the article include Rosey the Robot (robot housekeeper) and teleportation.

More interestingly perhaps, and more in line with current SF, is the turn from the pulp fiction view that technology is always a Good Thing that will make life easier, to a more dystopian view that technology is the enemy of survival. The author uses Battlestar Galactica as an example:

It depicts a world where human beings have created amazing technology that has brought them to the precipice of extinction. There's no Buck Rogers zooming blissfully through the sky.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

What Makes You Happy?

Perhaps that question, What makes you happy?, is central to most literature. If you want a warm story, you write about what makes the character happy. Sure. If you want a dark story, you write about what makes someone unhappy...or about a character who is only happy if he/she is making someone else unhappy. If you want a thriller, you write about what could potentially make someone (or their relatives), permanently unhappy. If you want to write about extreme swings of happiness and unhappiness, you write a romance or war novel (same thing).

And there is a point. Here is an article from the Atlantic about some amazing Harvard University research whereby they followed the lives of 268 men who entered college in the 1930s "through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age." They refer to this as longitudinal research. (In case you're wondering, women attended Harvard's sister institution of Radcliffe College exclusively until after WWII.)

One multi-paragraph teaser snippet of one of the 268 cases:

After college, you got an advanced degree and began to climb the rungs in your profession. You married a terrific girl, and you two played piano together for fun. You eventually had five kids. Asked about your work in education, you said, “What I am doing is not work; it is fun. I know what real work is like.”....Two years later, at 49, you were running a major institution. The strain showed immediately. Asked for a brief job description, you wrote: “RESPONSIBLE (BLAMED) FOR EVERYTHING.” You added, “No matter what I do … I am wrong … We are just ducks in a shooting gallery. Any duck will do.”....Your first wife had died, and you treated your second wife “like a familiar old shoe,” he said....But you called yourself happy. When you were 74, the questionnaire asked: “Have you ever felt so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer you up?”..."You circled “None of the time.”


Another, Case No. 47: You literally fell down drunk and died. Not quite what the study had in mind.

To see the rest of the article, go here.

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Friday, May 1, 2009

Future of Science Fiction--Bruce Sterling

Bruce Sterling is a science fiction writer of note who helped define cyberpunk. If you visit the Wikipedia article about him you'll see the broad range of his interests. So he is a good choice to look at science fiction past, present and future, both outside and inside the box. Two themes at least emerge from this introspection: the limitations of the media conveying the fiction and the limitations--often self imposed--of the providers and consumers of science fiction.

What science fiction’s user base truly desired was not possible in the 1930s. Believing their own rhetoric, science fiction users supposed that they wanted a jet-propelled, atomic futurity. Whenever offered the chance at such goods and services, they never left science fiction to go get them. They didn’t genuinely want such things-not in real life....What the user base genuinely wanted was immersive fantasies.

Bruce goes further back than that...perhaps to the first known work of fiction, a collection of writings written in a Japanese womens' script for Japanese womens' consumption. From there, he goes to Worlds of Warcraft where consumers of this scripted game spend far more hours than any reader of books would.

In essence, the article is a challenge to writers to push past the limits of the present media. To write out of the box while thinking introspectively about the box. Here is the article, which interestingly appears in a newsletter associated with a renowned professional organization, the ACM (Association of Computing Machinery).

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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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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Online Access to Artifacts of World Culture

A U.S. Library of Congress-initiated and UN-sponsored project, the World Digital Library, seeks to provide access to artifacts of human culture from throughout the world. The LOC netted the first commercial supporter, Google, with its $3M donation.

...the World Digital Library would bring together online "rare and unique cultural materials held in U.S. and Western repositories with those of other great cultures such as those that lie beyond Europe and involve more than 1 billion people: Chinese East Asia, Indian South Asia and the worlds of Islam stretching from Indonesia through Central and West Asia to Africa."

At the World Digital Library site, you can click on a region and get a list of documents and view them. This seems a Good Thing in general. Many writers may find information and inspiration for stories there. In another article, it was pointed out that some of the items are copyrighted, according to the laws from where the item came...even if thousands of years old.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Legal Nightmares in Writing and the Visual Arts

Two slashdot articles about the Internet world to come wherein a designer is being sued for copyright infringement of his own works. It seems a miscreant copied his works on the Internet and posted them on a stock image site. The stock image service noticed the designer's site and is suing him...and....

A columnist for FoxNews was fired for reviewing [1 2 3] the "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" from a partial copy of the movie leaked to the Internet.

It seems that there are clear analogs of these stories for writers.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why Toddlers Don't Do What They're Told

So you tell the little br--, um, little guy or little gal to do something, only to be ignored. Sound familiar? Experience and cognitive research tells you toddlers don't always obey adults as they should. However, new research shows that toddlers are not just short adults.

The pupil measurements showed that 3-year-olds neither plan for the future nor live completely in the present. Instead, they call up the past as they need it.

To use the example in the article: you may think that telling the toddler to go get a coat because it is cold outside. The toddler will both obey and learn from this, right? Not exactly. The toddler more likely will go outside into the cold and only then remember your advice, and then might go inside to get the recalled remedy to the cold.

What has this to do with writing fantasy or science fiction (or syfy)? Perhaps toddlers are different enough creatures that they may be considered other-folk or space aliens. They are an object lesson in avoiding the fallacies of writing about fantasy creatures or aliens as if they were human. (No offense. Writers are all from Lake Wobegon, where all children are above average.)

Back to Earth: the article author did give an example of what to say to the toddler rather than repeating the command to get to coat. However, the suggested text seems to exceed the attention span of most toddlers, IMHO:

I know you don't want to take your coat now, but when you're standing in the yard shivering later, remember that you can get your coat from your bedroom.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Measure of a Writer's Success

I thought this was an excellent measure of a writer: to have created an "imperishable fictional hero."

Sir John Mortimer, who died this January at 85, left behind an imperishable fictional hero (the roguish Horace Rumpole of the Old Bailey), a celebrated legal career, and a ringing defense of delight—profane or profound—in the face of human darkness.

Here, then, is an article about this writer and character from Vanity Fair.

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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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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Americans Weak on Science--That's Good!

Oh, I'm getting annoyed at reports like this that say Americans are weak in science education. They're saying that as if it were a bad thing, but it's not. Here is my reasoning: something that is false is a fiction, right? So Americans who are weak in science and easily write science fiction. The dumber they are, the better the science fiction. See? Where were these journalists educated, anyway?

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Generation OMG: the Future

It seems that many if not most pundits reckon the current economic downturn to be a generational event. I have no opinion about that. That aside, here is a NYT guesstimate [hey, the spellchecker was okay with guesstimate!] of the effect the economy with have on the OMG generation. It is more retrospective than predictive, but in general, the reporter says that youth will stay home longer (OMG!), get spottier educations, become more civic-minded, and have more interest in what's really important.

So there. Go write novels for them.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Number of Chimps to Write a Novel Lowered

I read with interest a story about a chimp that executes hours-long nefarious plots against human visitors to a zoo. After scratching my ribs in contemplation for a while, it occurred to me that the previous estimate of how many chimps it would take to pound out a novel on a typewriter, 1,000,000, is no longer accurate. For one thing, where are you going to get 1,000,000 typewriters these days?

My estimate, after due consideration to new evidence, is that it would take no more than 1500 chimps to pound out a novel, if you put this chimp in charge. Here is my reasoning: even humans can't pound out a novel if they have no plot. But the chimp in the story can plot. That is a major hurdle that has been overcome by modern chimps. If you can plot, then you can write a novel.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Writing for a living: a joy or a chore?

This Guardian UK article has comments from five authors about the professional writing life. These are not Poe-esque tortured souls, forced by an inner demon to write. If you had to reduce the complaints to a word, it would be drudgery, the struggle to always work when tomorrow might be a better day.

Joyce Carol Oats:
Most writers find first drafts painfully difficult, like climbing a steep stairs, the end of which isn't in sight. Only just persevere! Eventually, you will get where you are gong, or so you hope. And when you get there, you will not ask why?

AL Kennedy
The joy of writing for a living is that you get to do it all the time. The misery is that you have to, whether you're in the mood or not.

And then there are a couple like Julie Myerson:
Writing gives me such enormous pleasure, and I'm a much happier (and therefore nicer) person when I'm doing it.

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Very Tense Post

If you are like many writers you have struggled with writing consistently in the same tense. The stories in this set (pdf) were written in 12 tenses (though I counted only 11). The stories, by David Yost, are from the current issue of Pleiades: A Journal of New Writing, published through subscription by the University of Central Missouri. However, they have some teaser stories, articles and poems online, including the Yost stories.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Gary Westfahl on the Sci-Fi's Pitfalls of Prophesy

Here is a terrific discussion by Gary Westfahl about why SF fails to predict the future. He framed his thoughts with seven fallacies, each with examples and explanations:
  1. The Fallacy of Universal Wealth: all governments and individuals in the future will be wealthy....
  2. The Fallacy of Replacement: once we develop an advanced scientific method to do something, we will immediately abandon all the old methods....
  3. The Fallacy of Inevitable Technology: if there emerges a new, technological way to do something, it will inevitably be adopted....
  4. The Fallacy of Extrapolation: an identified trend will always continue in the same manner, indefinitely into the future....
  5. The Fallacy of Analogy: a new technology will be adopted and employed in the same manner as a related form of previous technology.
  6. The Fallacy of Universal Stupidity: people in the future will be capable of making incredibly stupid mistakes....
  7. The Fallacy of Drama: major changes will occur in a quick and noticeable fashion, as a result of a single major event or of the actions of a single individual....

The fallacies thus outlined, Westfahl goes on to describe "current science fiction predictions about humanity's future and debunk them on the basis of the detectable fallacies that have engendered them." The predictions involve: the conquest of space, human cloning, asteroid impacts, a world controlled by multinational corporations, the depletion of all natural resources, the decline of marriage, and the tuned-in, virtual citizenry.

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Evolution of the English Language

Here are some tips about how to preserve the freshness of your stories by avoiding words that will disappear from the language. (You especially might want to check your trunk novels.)

Scientists at the University of Reading have discovered that 'I', 'we', 'who' and the numbers '1', '2' and '3' are amongst the oldest words, not only in English, but across all Indo-European languages. What's more, words like 'squeeze', 'guts', 'stick', 'throw' and 'dirty' look like they are heading for history's dustbin - along with a host of others....

Thanks to the recent availability of an IBM supercomputer, they've been able to look back 30,000 years and predict winners and losers of the English language.

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gender Divide: Perception of Beauty

Occasionally, the assessments of a story in the Flash Fiction Online slush pile will become divided along gender lines. Here is an article about serious research of gender differences in the perception of beauty. I don't know that one can or should extrapolate this research on visual beauty to literary quality, but it might be a fun exercise. A snippet from the article:

In men, images they consider to be beautiful appear to activate brain regions responsible for locating objects in absolute terms — x- and y-coordinates on a grid. Images considered beautiful by women do the same, but they also activate regions associated with relative location: above and behind, over and under.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Laws of Science Fiction

From BoingBoing by way of SF Signal, the laws of science fiction. This isn't just a list. There is thoughtful corollaries and commentary about why the law should be obeyed by writers (and why a reader might shrug and put the book down if the laws are abused). For example:

Law No. 4 Given Something an Alien Name Doesn't Make it Alien.

Raktajino is coffee. By giving it a Klingon name it sort of appears alien, but everyone drinks it like coffee. It looks like coffee. It is coffee. Don't think that by making cows into Dvigids and Horses into Pytkos that you are not writing a western....

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Interview with Four Young Literary Agents

From PW, here is an interview with four young literary agents. An example from the five web pages of the interview:

What are you people looking for in a piece of fiction?

BARER: I like what Dan has on his Publishers Marketplace profile: the book that makes me miss my subway stop. I think everybody's looking for a book that you can't put down, that you lose yourself in so completely that you forget everything else that's going on in your life and you just want to stay up and you don't care if you're going to be tired in the morning. You just want to keep reading.

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

James Patterson's Chain Novel

Here is a claim for "the world's first chain novel," AirBorne, inspired by thriller writer James Patterson." Patterson will write the first and last chapter. Other selected writers will serially write the middle chapters.

However, I hereby call them on the carpet for their claim. A group of well-known Florida writers did this in 1996 in Naked Came the Manatee. The authors of this novel include Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen, Elmore Leonard, Les Standiford, Paul Levine, Edna Buchanan, James W. Hall, Carolina Hospital, Evelyn Mayerson, Tananarive Due, Brian Antoni, Vicki Hendricks and John Dufresne. This serial novel is a mystery parody, giving a nod to a delicious literary hoax, Naked Came the Stranger. (I happen to have a copy of Naked Came the Manatee, signed by all authors.)

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Nancy Kress on Being a Writer

From Nancy Kress's Blog, six personality traits that one must have, in addition to talent, to be an SF writer. "Talent and desire are not enough. The rest must be there, or must be acquired, in order to become a writer."

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Extremophiles and God Particles

Two articles of science to spark your imagination and world-building. Both leads for these are by way of slashdot.

The first, Extremophiles in Kamchatka, is a set of four annotated photo albums about a joint American and Russian scientific expedition to study natural life in extreme conditions in the Russian Far East, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and NASA. Some of the life they studied thrives in scalding steam baths of 90 degrees C/194 degrees F. Even if you're not interested in the science, the photography is excellent.

The second story illustrates the intense rivalry of science, the race for the "God particle" (Higgs boson). In a nasal voice: "The European Cern Lab's LHC is ahead by two lengths. Fermilab is holding tight. But wait! Cern has stumbled. Oh no! It's limping. Fermilab is catching up quickly. Will Cern regain to its stride soon enough to win the Nobel Prize? Stay in your seats, ladies and gentlemen."

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

To the Moon, Alice! Which one Ralph?

You have plenty of time (until 2020) to get your anthology story up to speed for the joint NASA/ESA interplanetary mission to a moon. But which one? Saturn's Titan? or Jupiter's Europa? Both have tantalizing scientific prospects, and the Europa option could include a Russian lander (more intrigue for your story). On the other hand, those sirens of Titan....

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Revisiting Lincoln

This seems a good time to consider Abraham Lincoln, again. Perhaps the alternate history writers among will be interested in some what-if scenarios regarding this iconic U.S. president. This National Endowment for the Arts article briefly describes the changing view that the citizenry has had for the man over the decades.

The article, from the NEA's Humanities magazine, also has links to three related articles: Looking for Lincoln: Journalist Andrew Ferguson and NEH Chairman Bruce Cole discuss America’s love-hate relationship with our sixteenth president. Douglas Wilson's article on Lincoln’s legal papers reveals a "surprising cache of sundry clients and dramatic litigation." Lewis Lehrman talks to NEH Chairman Bruce Cole about Abraham Lincoln’s pivotal speech in 1854 (Kansas-Nebraska Act).

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Top 10 Humorous (Grammar) Blogs

Top 10 Humorous (Grammar) Blogs, according to the Delaware Employment Law Blog.

Parental Warning: many of these blogs display explicit photos of public bad grammar, including total frontal signage and wide-open menus. The mistreatment of apostrophes may be especially upsetting to children.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Rejectomancy

Rejectomancy is Abyss & Apex's open disclosure of what their standard form letters mean for their very good, good, bad and ugly slush pile rejections. Although other publishers may use only one "not right for us at this time" form letter, I suspect they use the same basic editorial process.

I suggest that A & A add a new form letter for me: we couldn't discern whether this was a submission to our magazine or a misaddressed rant to your psychiatrist. In either case, feel free never to contact us again for any reason.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Entangled Narratives: Competing Visions of the Good Life

Below are some teaser snippets from William Grassie's essay on competing cultural visions, which are strongly tied to humans' natural tendency towards storytelling. Click here for the full essay. This article is from the Global Spiral, the eMagazine of the Metanexus Institute.

"...Narratives are not just a matter of individuals creating their inner and social Self; narratives are also what bind societies and cultures together...Much of cultural transmission was in the form of storytelling. Today, people are more likely to gather around the cool glow of the television, but we are no less storied creatures...we make moral judgments based on the analogical applications of powerful stories...The most important stories that humans tell, retell, and reframe are...referred to as “metanarratives”. These master stories are the stuff of ideologies, religions, and cultures.


"Christian Smith...offers a dozen examples of contemporary metanarratives, each presented in about two hundred words – the Christian narrative, the Militant Islamic Resurgence narrative, the American Experiment narrative, the Capitalist Prosperity narrative, the Progressive Socialism narrative, the Scientific Enlightenment narrative, the Expressive Romantic narrative, the Unity with Brahman narrative, the Liberal Progress narrative, the Ubiquitous Egoism narrative, and the Chance and Purposeless Narrative...There is no simple way to adjudicate between these competing worldviews and world doings.


"The question I want to explore in this essay, how does one intellectually adjudicate between competing metanarratives, understanding that these are then fundamental in structuring our thought and behavior in many profound ways, both political and personal....I turn to the field of hermeneutics to try to find a way out of the relativistic impasse...."

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Human-Like Abilities in Animals: Tools

According to Wired:
Tool use was once thought to distinguish humans from animal — until, that is, so many animals proved able to use them.
We know a million monkeys banging on keyboards might produce a short story. But it wouldn't be publishable on FFO. So there!

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Bad Writing

To learn how not to write a novel, click here (Times Online) and here (Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest).

Academic writing: the Philosophy and Literature Bad Writing Contest ran from 1995 to 1998. (Denis Dutton is a professor at the University of Canterbury, NZ.) For background on the contest, click here, which seems to be a reprinted Wall Street Journal article.

Butt its not there fawlt, blame it on computers.

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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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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tales from the Slush Pile

Ed Briant's “Tales from the Slush Pile” is a comic strip about a children's book writer. Here is installment #157, at Publishers Weekly. The first installment is here.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

New Ways to Terminate Your Characters

Do you need an enterprising way to arrange the demise of a character in your story? See the Darwin awards and the past Darwin awards.

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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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Friday, January 2, 2009

Banned Words and Phrases

No, not naughty words...words and phrases that, according to Lake Superior State University, have been so overused that editors consider them trite. New to the list this year is an emoticon that I must admit I'd never seen: <3 (a heart or love). It looks like less-than 3 to me, but I don't travel often in the emotisphere.

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