The Storyteller

22 November 2014

From an old issue of The New Yorker:

My copy was blue. The book was a small Scholastic paperback, and on the cover was a trio of pale-green concentric circles. They looked like radio waves, or the kind of design you could get by fiddling around with a Spirograph set. In one of the circles was the silhouette of a girl, and, in another, a matching image of a little boy.

The book was “A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle. Published in 1962, it is—depending on how you look at it—science fiction, a warm tale of family life, a response to the Cold War, a book about a search for a father, a feminist tract, a religious fable, a coming-of-age novel, a work of Satanism, or a prescient meditation on the future of the United States after the Kennedy assassination. When I first read it, in 1967, at the age of eight, I was innocent of any of this, and I had no idea that the story was also about the author. The girl in the circle was her childhood self, lostand lonely in space. But for L’Engle, even more than for Meg Murry, who with her brother Charles Wallace is travelling, according to my edition’s back-flap copy, “through a wrinkle in time, to the deadly unknown terrors beyond the tesseract!,” it had been even more perilous, because she had no grave, precocious little boy to accompany her. I knew even less that those closest to Madeleine L’Engle considered her science fiction to be the least fantastical of her more than fifty books, which, in addition to her novels, include poetry, meditations, and memoirs.

I once asked L’Engle to define “science fiction.” She replied, “Isn’t everything?” On another occasion, in the vast, sunny apartment in a building on West End Avenue where she has lived since 1960, and where she and her late husband, the actor Hugh Franklin, brought up their three children, she offered an example. “I was standing right there, carrying a plate of cold cuts,” she said, pointing at a swinging door between the dining room and the pantry. “And I swooped into the pantry, bang, and got a black eye. It was exactly as if someone pushed me.” At eighty-five, L’Engle is a formidable figure. She is five feet nine in her stocking feet, and uses a wheelchair owing to a broken hip. She has a birdlike head, a sharp nose, and an air of helpless innocence that is almost entirely put on. She wore a loose-fitting dress in one of her favorite colors, peacock blue. “Most likely,” she continued firmly, “it was a poltergeist. There must have been a teen-age girl in the house. All that energy! They create the best atmosphere for them, you know. We don’t know how to catch and harness it.” She nodded. “Too true of most things.”

. . . .

Catherine Hand, who is an executive producer of a made-for-television version of “A Wrinkle in Time,” which is scheduled to air next month on ABC, fell in love with the book when she was ten. She says, “The engine that drives it is Meg’s inner life, and it’s astonishing, because here is a girl who at that moment is stronger than her father. For some of us, it planted the seeds of the women’s movement. I have had wonderful conversations with Madeleine, as a friend, who is, of course, Meg.”

Robert Giroux, of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, which first published “A Wrinkle in Time,” says, “Madeleine L’Engle? She’s an unusual woman, brilliant intellectually. A really superior person. She’s what you used to call a bluestocking. I’ve worked with T. S. Eliot, and W. H. Auden, and so on, but my young relatives all say, ‘Oh, Madeleine L’Engle!’ ”

The hardcover edition of “A Wrinkle in Time” is now in its sixty-seventh printing, and continues to sell about fifteen thousand copies annually. (L’Engle says that she had a clause in her contract that Farrar, Straus had the rights to “A Wrinkle in Time” in perpetuity in the universe, but not on Andromeda.) More than six million copies of the paperback are currently in circulation.

. . . .

More than most writers, L’Engle has engaged with her readers. Until about five years ago, she was a tireless lecturer and teacher, annually accepting dozens of invitations to speak, on writing, family life, and faith—L’Engle has been a devout Anglican for most of her adult life—and she has often received more than a hundred letters from readers in a week. (Her grandchildren, Léna Roy and Charlotte and Edward Jones, now handle most of her correspondence.) One evening at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where L’Engle has been the librarian for forty years, an Evensong service was held to celebrate her contribution to literature for children. Scores of strangers waited to greet her—mainly middle-aged women, some with children in tow, but men, too. What they said was “Thank you. You changed my life.”

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

It makes you wonder

22 November 2014

It makes you wonder. All the brilliant things we might have done with our lives if only we suspected we knew how.

Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

Want To Be More Creative? Don’t Sleep

22 November 2014

From LinkedIn:

Wednesday, famed sportswriter Bill Simmons released a podcast where he interviewed Lorne Michaels, the man who created and still runs Saturday Night Live. In the interview, Michaels said something particularly interesting about the creative process.

Simmons asked him about the grueling nature of SNL, where Michaels and his staff have been putting on a live hour of television each week for the past 40 years. Specifically, Simmons asked if that sort of schedule was too difficult, if there would be a benefit to cutting back.

Michaels’ answer: no.

“There’s a mantra that I have, which is fatigue is your friend,” Michaels said. “There’s a point at which, in anything artistic, at least from my perspective, the critical faculty can overwhelm the creative faculty… When you’re tired, you just write it, and all sorts of different kinds of work comes out.”

Michaels, who developed talent like Will Ferrell, Chris Farley, Eddie Murphy and hundreds of others, went on to say that when creative types are tired, they lose their filter. And then, “someone takes a chance that they would never, if they were cautious or they were smart, would have ever attempted.”

“And those kinds of things are what you remember now as hits,” he continued.

. . . .

There have been several scientific studies into the exact issue Simmons and Michaels talked about. And while there are some splits in the findings, the majority say that, indeed, sleep deprivation can actually increase creativity.

One study by Mareike Wieth at Albion College probed into this issue by giving people problems to answer at their non-optimal time of the day; i.e. times when they were tired (morning people were given problems in the evening and evening people were given problems in the morning).

What Wieth found was that people answered math questions better when they were well-rested. However, for problems that required more creative thinking, the people who were more tired did better.

“The findings indicate that tasks involving creativity might benefit from a non-optimal time of day,” Wieth wrote in her study.

Additionally, Italian researcher Marcello Massimini found that the brain becomes more sensitive throughout the day, as it continues to form new synapses for as long as you stay awake. When you finally sleep, those synapses are pruned down.

Link to the rest at LinkedIn and thanks to Dennis for the tip.

Apple $450 million e-book settlement gets final court approval

22 November 2014

From Reuters:

A U.S. judge on Friday gave final approval to Apple Inc’s agreement to pay $450 million to resolve claims it harmed consumers by conspiring with five publishers to raise e-book prices.

During a hearing in Manhattan, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote approved what she called a “highly unusual” accord. It calls for Apple to pay $400 million to as many as 23 million consumers if the company is unsuccessful in appealing a ruling that found it liable for antitrust violations.

The $400 million comes on top of earlier settlements with five publishers in the case, which provided $166 million for e-book purchasers.

. . . .

Apple agreed to the settlement in June, ahead of a damages trial set for two months later in which attorneys general in 33 states and territories and lawyers for a class of consumers were expected to seek up to $840 million.

Link to the rest at Reuters

‘Bieber’s Finger’ and other quirky fiction

22 November 2014

From The Ogden Standard-Examiner:

The old “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll” stereotype has nothing on the new science fiction novel by Kaysville author/musician/businessman Craig Nybo.

In “Bieber’s Finger,” Nybo has crafted a story about a super fan who just happens to catch the finger of her pop-singing idol when he’s killed in a car bombing — all of which happens in the first few pages. The rest of the book chronicles this 15-year-old groupie’s attempts to illegally clone the object of her affection and proceed to teach him to sing and dance so that he can perform at the upcoming Pan-Galactic Prom Show.

The 44-year-old Nybo calls it “death, resurrection and rock ’n’ roll.”

. . . .

Although Craig Nybo is the creative director at his Kaysville agency, his true calling is as an author.

“I am a professional writer,” he said. “And novels are really my first passion. Since I was a kid I have written stories.”

About four years ago, Nybo decided to begin self-publishing his books. He’s produced four novels so far, and the titles alone are worth the price of this young adult fiction.

Nybo’s first novel was “Allied Zombies for Peace,” a work that takes place within a 42-minute span of time at a 1968 Veterans Day parade in Columbus, Ohio. Basically, it’s zombies vs. the Ku Klux Klan, and it might be the first zombie story where people are actually rooting for the undead.

“That is true,” Nybo said. “I got to thinking, ‘Is there anyone out there worse than zombies?’ and I thought, ‘Oh yeah, there’s one group.’ ”

Nybo’s second book, “Small Town Monsters,” is more of a classic horror novel, along the lines of a “Salem’s Lot” — traditional, gothic monsters set in a modern era. He describes the book as “rednecks, beer, guns and werewolves.”

“It’s like deer hunting — with teeth — is really what it is,” he says.

. . . .

Nybo has taught classes on writing, and publishing, and he says the two rules for anyone self publishing are: Make sure your book is absolutely as good as you can make it, which includes getting outside help; and always sell it — never give it away.

“That’s what I’m always telling people,” he said. “Because if you give it away, it cheapens the self-publishing scene.”

With “Bieber’s Finger” and “Funk Toast,” Nybo says he didn’t even bother sending out a query letter to publishers.

“More and more I am less and less interested in a standard publisher or agent,” he said.

. . . .

“I’m pretty close,” Nybo says when asked if he’s living his dream. He gets to do a little bit of everything in the creative realm, and while he’s not exactly rich, he says money doesn’t motivate him.

Link to the rest at Ogden Standard-Examiner

Here’s a link to Craig Nybo’s books

Author Solutions Steps Up Global Expansion, Penguin Random House Integration

21 November 2014

From David Gaughran:

Penguin Random House is speeding up the international expansion of its vanity press operations, while also seeking to integrate them more closely with the traditional side of the business – hoping to counteract flat growth for Author Solutions at a time when self-publishing is booming.

Author Solutions launches a new self-publishing service company for the Spanish market next Tuesday – MeGustaEscribir – which contains the usual mix of crappy publishing packages and ineffective, overpriced marketing services, as well as some extremely questionable practices such as reading fees (more on that below).

. . . .

How Author Solutions Squeezes Newbie Writers

Customers are captured through a variety of deceptive means – such as fake “independent” websites which purport to review all the self-publishing options available to writers (but only compare the various Author Solutions imprints); fake social media profiles pretending to be writers or “publishing consultants” (who only recommend Author Solutions companies); and, a “bounty” to various unscrupulous parties to deliver Author Solutions fresh blood.

Obviously, Author Solutions needs to use such deceptive measures because authors who have used its services aren’t recommending it to their fellow writers. Instead, they are warning them away.

Once Author Solutions has a writer’s contact details, it moves fast – endlessly harassing them by phone and email until they cave and purchase an overpriced publishing package. When the publishing process is almost complete, an Author Solutions sales rep then contacts the writer to let them know some exciting news: they have won a fake award – invented by Author Solutions.

The catch is this. To receive the award, the writer must purchase one of Author Solutions wholly unsuitable, completely ineffective, and crazily priced marketing packages.

. . . .

Using high-pressure sales tactics, and careful targeting of the most inexperienced and vulnerable writers, Author Solutions squeezes an average of over $5,000 out of its customers, who then go on to average sales of just 150 copies (from Author Solutions’ own figures) – obviously coming nowhere close to recouping that staggering outlay, despite the accompanying overblown promises from Author Solutions sales reps.

. . . .

This new Spanish imprint from Author Solutions also continues the trend of very close integration with the local Penguin Random House operation – one aspect of the merger and subsequent reorganization that doesn’t receive any attention in the trade press.

. . . .

This strategy of closer integration was flagged long in advance. When Penguin Random House Chairman John Makinson appointed company man Andrew Philips as CEO of Author Solutions in May 2013, he said that “a new chief executive from within Penguin would connect the business more closely to Penguin’s curated publishing activities.”

This shows how central Penguin Random House views author scamming to its future. Partridge India shares offices with Penguin Random House India, and touts its connections to its parent company all the time. The other two international imprints launched since the Penguin purchase – Partridge Singapore and Partridge Africa – are also keen to highlight the Penguin Random House connection. And all three Partridge imprints disingenuously dangle the possibility of a traditional publishing contract in front of newbie authors to get them to sign with Author Solutions.

. . . .

MeGustaEscribir goes one step beyond, firmly embracing an unethical practice which had been consigned to the dustbin of publishing history: reading fees.

Heavily touted on the MeGustaEscribir site is the Recognition Program – where customers will be recommended for review by an editor from Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial.

. . . .

Here’s the really shocking part. Consideration by a Penguin Random House editor is contingent on writers undergoing an Editorial Evaluation Report by MeGustaEscribir. The only publishing packages which contain this Evaluation Report are priced at 2,899 Euro (approx $3,600) and 3,999 Euro (approx $4,970).

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital and thanks to Jim for the tip.

Here’s a link to David Gaughran’s books

He understood

21 November 2014

He understood that these were extraordinary times, and if their old life was ever restored to them, nothing would be the same.

Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

‘Amageddon': How Amazon’s culture is taking a toll on Seattle’s future

21 November 2014

From GeekWire:

When I arrived in Seattle in 1991, Tim Wistrom’s artplayfully epitomized post-apocalyptic Seattle. But increasingly, the city’s likely doom appears much less fantastic and closer: an unaffordable traffic-filled metropolis dominated by white males and devoid of independent culture — fueled by Amazon.

In May, I calculated that Amazon’s planned office space would employ five percent of the city of Seattle — but that was before it inked deals to build or lease an additional 1.37 million square feet; it’s now on track to employ 45,000 locally or seven percent of the city.

Columnist Danny Westneat recently wrote that locals are openly asking in jest, “Do you think they’ll let us stay?” Assuming they do, what values do our city’s most populous neighbors share?

During my time at Microsoft during the ’90s, people spoke of “drinking the Microsoft Kool Aid”. For me, that included turning a blind eye towards Microsoft’s domineering, monopolistic practices; to employees spending their day on the company’s isolated suburban campus, the company couldn’t do much wrong. That changed for me in the years after I left and got psychic distance from the company and ultimately when I reported on the hypocrisy of its executives’ education advocacy in the shadow of its billion-dollar Nevada tax dodge.

If Amazon employees are similarly absorbing the values of the company and its founder, Jeff Bezos, just what are those values and what might Seattle look like a decade from now?

. . . .

Seattle is the fastest-growing city in the country; now larger than Boston. We have the fourth worst traffic in the country. We rank twelfth of major cities for public transportation with less than half the trips per capita of San Francisco. Puget Sound Business Journal reports, “there are more than 100 construction projects in Downtown Seattle,” a third more than the previous high from 2007. “Over the past year, the amount of office space under construction has nearly doubled … to 3.2 million square feet.”

. . . .

So a lot about our Amazon-fueled future is just plain obvious: Seattle will be more male, even more white, wealthier and less diverse, unaffordable to those with lower incomes including the firestarters of culture, artists. The city’s spacious skyline, which offered scenic views from many areas of town, will be forever transformed; anyone who lives here knows it already has been. Many parts of Seattle are unrecognizable from last year let alone a few years ago.

. . . .

In addition to fast-rising rents, parts of the home market are on fire. Zillow forecasts my home’s value will increase to $960,000 next year from $649,000 in 2012, an increase of nearly fifty percent in just three years.

I admit I’m part of the problem. Not only did I come to Seattle for the opportunity to work at a large technology company, but it made me wealthy, as well. I’m not saying that Amazon shouldn’t grow and that others shouldn’t benefit from the opportunity, I just believe the company’s growing irresponsibly and beginning to have an irrevocably damaging impact on Seattle’s character and quality of life.

. . . .

It certainly doesn’t seem overly leveraged, but could Amazon one day collapse as Washington Mutual did? It’s unlikely but not completely outside the realm of possibility. Any sudden broader economic downturn could hurt the retailer’s cash flow which is the lifeline to Seattle’s current growth.

Link to the rest at GeekWire

PG remembers Seattle before Microsoft. After the end of the Vietnam War, Boeing, Seattle’s only big business, laid off tens of thousands of well-paid employees, the city went into a long economic slump and a huge number of people left. Housing costs were a bargain because so many houses were for sale. A billboard appeared near the airport that read, “Would the last person leaving Seattle please turn off the lights.”

Some people want increased prosperity without change. During the 80’s and 90’s Microsoft was the company that was “ruining” Seattle and “Microsoft mansions” were popping up all over. It’s a matter of personal taste, but PG liked the post-Microsoft Seattle much better than the pre-Microsoft Seattle.

The Unexpectedly Long Life of an eBook

21 November 2014

From author and TPV regular Catherine Czerkawska:

The Curiosity Cabinet started out as a trilogy of plays for  BBC Radio 4 back in the 1990s. Later, I rewrote it, with significant changes, as a novel but it took a very long time to find a publisher. It was some time in the late 90s, when I was looking for a new agent, that one of them called it ‘a library novel fit only for housewives.’ I wasn’t a newcomer in any sense. I had a long and occasionally award winning career as a playwright, as well as two published novels and plenty of non fiction behind me, so I could laugh it off.

But it still stung a bit.

Eventually, I secured representation at one of the bigger London agencies. My new agent told me that she liked the novel, but she thought it was ‘too quiet’ to sell.  Nevertheless, she sent it out to the big boys. I forget how many there were back then – certainly a few more than the current Big Five, but all the same, amalgamations were rife and the so called mid-list was definitely on the slide. Agents and publishers were already talking about the ‘decline of the mid-list’. One even cheerfully predicted the ‘death of the mid-list’. I knew in my sinking heart that I was a typical mid-lister. It was an invidious position to find yourself in. Back then, anyway. One of the acquisitions editors who responded pointed out that although she liked the book, they had ‘published something similar and it did less well than expected.’ Most of them said that although they liked the novel they ‘couldn’t carry sales and marketing with them.’ Or they ‘liked it but didn’t love it.’

Nobody wanted it.

Eventually, my agent suggested that while I got on with something a bit less quiet, I should submit the novel to a newish competition: the Dundee Book Prize. It seemed like a good idea. I wasn’t doing anything else with it, after all. Some time after the closing date for entries, I got a phone call. My novel had been shortlisted. Would I come to an event aboard The Discovery in Dundee, when an announcement would be made? The reception and dinner aboard Captain Scott’s polar exploration ship was very pleasant. We soon realised that the shortlist consisted of only three books, three authors. And at the dinner, we were happy to discover that all three of us would be offered a publishing contract although only one novel would win the big cash prize.

The Curiosity Cabinet didn’t, in fact, win that overall prize but it was published. That was in 2005. I seem to remember that the print run involved only 1000 trade paperback copies, albeit nicely done. There were one or two speaking engagements including the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and a three for two offer in a big chain bookstore. I remember all the excitement of seeing my book in several shop windows. But because the publisher was marketing these completely different novels and their authors as a threesome, we didn’t get much publicity. I sent a review copy to a popular Scottish TV presenter who gave me a ringing endorsement for the cover. ‘How did you do that?’ my publisher asked. The truth was that I had simply asked nicely, but I got the sense that their approval of the publicity was warring just a wee bit with their disapproval of such populism. A Scottish women’s magazine serialised it. They made an excellent job of the abridgement and paid handsomely.

The run sold out within the year and … that was that. There was no sign of a reprint. My agent told me that (to her surprise as well as mine because the relationship to that point had been friendly) the publisher had declined to look at anything else from me. My work didn’t fit in with the way they saw the company progressing. Eventually, I reclaimed my rights – a process which, to give them credit, they made remarkably easy. But I soon found out that in the world of traditional publishing it is far better to be a new discovery than to be a writer who has been rejected by her publisher.

. . . .

I think what really kept me going through that dark time was the response of readers. I was still being invited to give talks and readings, and people were always asking me how they could get hold of my books, where they might find more of my work. The problem was that they couldn’t. It was in computer files and printouts and a handful of out-of-print copies. There was a lot of it. I still remember the mingled pleasure and pain of hearing a friend – an enthusiastic reader – say to me, ‘You know, we don’t understand how this could happen. We love your writing, we want to read more of it and we think you’ve been treated very shabbily.’ Pity is never easy to accept but the emails I got from other readers, complete strangers, said much the same thing. ‘Haven’t you written any more fiction and why can’t we read it?’

. . . .

And then, along came Jeff Bezos and Amazon and Kindle Direct Publishing.

It wasn’t at all hard to decide to take my career into my own hands. In fact it seemed ridiculously easy. I had nothing at all to lose. My only regret was that it hadn’t happened sooner. I had been searching for something like this for years and had never been able to find it: a business partner who would facilitate distribution and let me get on with it, leaving the control of it in my own hands.

. . . .

So what happened after I began my self publishing venture? Well, since 2011 when I published it as an eBook, The Curiosity Cabinet has sold more copies than I would have believed possible. And it just keeps rolling along. I’m not making any fortunes from this and my other books – yet. But they add a small but healthy sum to my income every month. As I write this, the Curiosity Cabinet has undergone another spike in sales and in its category on Amazon here in the UK is sitting at #9.

. . . .

Most of all, for me, the Curiosity Cabinet illustrates the potential long life of an eBook. For my publisher at the time, it was over and done within the year (as was the writer!) It seems they must always be moving on to the next project and their next project didn’t involve my kind of novel at all. I’m forced to the conclusion that it was, for them, a sound business decision. But it wasn’t my decision and as it turns out, it wasn’t right for me or for this book either.

The fact remains that there are readers out there who still seem to want to read it. Lots of them.

Link to the rest at Wordarts

Here’s a link to Catherine Czerkawska’s books

Self-publishing’s vices and virtues

21 November 2014

From The Guardian:

Almost any discussion of self-publishing seems to attract an immediate hostility quite unlike the amused tolerance that greets those who, say, exhibit their indifferent watercolours, or seek to try out their wine-making skills on their friends. The discussion (I would hesitate to call it a debate) invariably and speedily descends to consideration of the literary merits of 50 Shades of Grey (whose author in any case disputes that it ever was self-published).

A report of research I presented to a recent publishing conference, challenging misapprehensions as to what sort of people are now self-publishing, provoked just such a lively correspondence. Of those interviewed for my study, 65% of self-publishers were women. Nearly two-thirds were aged 41 to 60, with a further 27% aged over 61. Half were in full-time employment, 32% had a degree and 44% a higher degree. According to my research, self-publishers tend predominantly to be educated and busy, and not self-publishing in retirement, bitter from a lifetime’s disappointment from the traditional industry.

. . . .

It is certainly true that many self-published books are not very good, but having been involved in academic research into the sector for the past five years I have come up with three main reasons why I think the output includes so much tosh – and also a case for a cultural value that is less easy to quantify.

. . . .

3. Success is not defined by the number of books downloaded or sold

Many authors, contrary to Salierei’s belief, are making money. Self-publishingauthors tend not to get in included in surveys of authors’ earnings, but Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, says: “Many of the association’s members are earning significant salaries now. I’m not talking here about the outliers, like the Kindle millionaires, but the many who are earning enough to leave their day jobs, feed their families, pay their mortgage, afford comforts and luxuries. And let us not forget that sales doesn’t just equal money, it equals readers. It’s one of my great delights to witness what this does for their confidence in themselves and in their work.”

The business model is also changing. Traditional publishing was a bit like a fishing game I owned as a child, with a stand-up cardboard frame and a rod for each player with a magnet on the end. Fish lay inside (and sometimes outside) the box, each accessorised with a corresponding magnet and waiting to be picked up – and provided you were in the right box, or close to it, you were usually found. Publishing worked in a similar way, from a scarcity model grounded in commercial principles, selecting titles to be published and protecting their value with copyright. Ross again: “Now we are working from an abundance model, grounded in creative principles. Excess and redundancy are no cause for concern. This is how nature, the fundamental model for all creativity, works: [it takes] a lot of acorns to get one baby oak. A lot of sperm miss out on the egg.”

. . . .

There are signs now that self-publishing is turning a corner – at last being seen as part of publishing in general. At its best it offers the traditional industry a new source of writing talent and a chance to take on material with readerships already established. In the process, it cultivates the kind of author proactivity that publishers need if they are to reach markets that are no longer predictable, due both to the proliferation of new media and the challenge to reading of so many other alternative leisure activities.

But it also allows people to create products that bring huge personal pride, even if they include a few spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Bridget for the tip.

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