Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Older Mind May Just Be a Fuller Mind

30 January 2014

From The New York Times:

People of a certain age (and we know who we are) don’t spend much leisure time reviewing the research into cognitive performance and aging. The story is grim, for one thing: Memory’s speed and accuracy begin to slip around age 25 and keep on slipping.

The story is familiar, too, for anyone who is over 50 and, having finally learned to live fully in the moment, discovers it’s a senior moment. The finding that the brain slows with age is one of the strongest in all of psychology.

. . . .

Since educated older people generally know more words than younger people, simply by virtue of having been around longer, the experiment simulates what an older brain has to do to retrieve a word. And when the researchers incorporated that difference into the models, the aging “deficits” largely disappeared.

. . . .

In fact, the new study is not likely to overturn 100 years of research, cognitive scientists say. Neuroscientists have some reason to believe that neural processing speed, like many reflexes, slows over the years; anatomical studies suggest that the brain also undergoes subtle structural changes that could affect memory.

Still, the new report will very likely add to a growing skepticism about how steep age-related decline really is.

. . . .

Dr. Ramscar and his colleagues applied leading learning models to an estimated pool of words and phrases that an educated 70-year-old would have seen, and another pool suitable for an educated 20-year-old. Their model accounted for more than 75 percent of the difference in scores between older and younger adults on items in a paired-associate test, he said.

That is to say, the larger the library you have in your head, the longer it usually takes to find a particular word (or pair).

Scientists who study thinking and memory often make a broad distinction between “fluid” and “crystallized” intelligence. The former includes short-term memory, like holding a phone number in mind, analytical reasoning, and the ability to tune out distractions, like ambient conversation. The latter is accumulated knowledge, vocabulary and expertise.

“In essence, what Ramscar’s group is arguing is that an increase in crystallized intelligence can account for a decrease in fluid intelligence,” said Zach Hambrick, a psychologist at Michigan State University.

. . . .

For the time being, this new digital-era challenge to “cognitive decline” can serve as a ready-made explanation for blank moments, whether senior or otherwise.

It’s not that you’re slow. It’s that you know so much.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Writers: We Don’t Want What We Should (And Want What We Shouldn’t)

30 January 2014

From author Michael Bunker:

The boom in self-publishing has created an army of author-publishers, and it has fundamentally altered the economic and literary landscape in the publishing world.  Top indie authors are busy storming the ramparts of Bestseller lists and in some genres Indie titles are capturing many (if not most) of the top slots in sales rankings, reader ratings, industry buzz, and customer recognition. But as in most areas of entertainment and the arts, world-shaking success in self-publishing is both coveted and rare.

Whenever there is a sea-change in the culture, often those who are in the midst of that change find themselves operating in a new world with minds and desires trained and trapped in the old one. People find themselves torn between the desires and longings they’ve been taught to have, and their maybe irrational desire to see every vestige of the old order – even the things that really need to remain – torn down or burned to the ground.

. . . .

Now, a whole new dynamic is in play. In a marketplace awash with products, authors have to focus on finding a way to get noticed. They have to learn to focus on things that are often foreign to the artist… Discoverability, Marketing and Promotion, Branding – things business marketing majors in the big houses used to handle.  All of these things are now the job of the author-publisher, and frankly most authors suck at this part of the job. It’s hard work.  It takes a whole different skill set.  And every author doesn’t think the same.  Some writers think that if they write a brilliant book, perfectly edited, and packaged just right, it will sell on its own (possible, but not probable.) Other writers leave off taking the time to learn their craft and improve, thinking that the product isn’t the main thing, and marketing and promotion will take up the slack where quality is lacking.  Some don’t even know the difference.  Sometimes this leads the author to pine for the old days when the writer would (as Hemingway said) sit at the typewriter and open his or her veins to produce a book, then photocopy dozens of copies to be stuck in envelopes and sent to strangers who may or may not look at it sometime in the following year.  Authors hate the slushpile, but often they hate hard work and responsibility even more.

. . . .

They want to be published more than they want to be read.  They want fame more than they want to sell books.  Some become professional submitters, not publishing on their own because of their hope that one day one of the gatekeepers is going to like and accept their work. Wanting so bad to be published, that they never publish. This despite the very real likelihood that by seeking the traditional route they would almost certainly – if they ever did get a publishing contract – sell fewer books and reach fewer readers than they ever would have if they’d self-published. Before you balk at that, think about it. Most writers are never going to be mainstream pubbed anyway.  Never. Just like I’m never going to play in the NBA, and neither is my son. So even selling a handful of books through self-publishing is more than they would ever sell any other way.  And despite the cherry-picking and whistling through the graveyard that goes on in most of these discussions, I believe it is far easier and more prevalent for a good writer to make a living wage being an indie only or hybrid published author, than it is for them to do so through mainstream publishing alone.  The millionaires and paupers on both sides like to throw away the middle and argue over the top or bottom few percent on either side of the fence, but when it comes to the ability of a virtually unknown author to make enough money to live and work and provide for a family by writing alone, I am certain that there are more Indies and Hybrids accomplishing this than there are mainstream pubbed authors.  According to most of the information I’ve read, and the dozens of authors to whom I’ve spoken, the “average” mainstream pubbed advance is $5,000 (and set to decrease, it seems.)  And many of these authors sign contracts with non-compete clauses that limit them to publishing one – on rare occasions two – books a year. The average mainstream published book, I’m told, actually sells (not how many are printed, but how many actually sell) a little over 6,000 copies in its lifetime. A staggeringly low amount when you consider what a lot of Indies – Indies most people have never heard of – are selling in a single month or a year.

. . . .

But no matter how bad it is (and how dreadfully bad it is still going to get,) authors still want it like oxygen – that validation from the industry.  With all the facts in hand, many of them would rather sell fewer books, engage fewer readers, and make less money if only it means that the scribes will wink at them and let them in to the nicest parties.  Publishing is not unique in hosting this bizarre phenomenon.

Link to the rest at Michael Bunker and thanks to Liana for the tip.

Everything I Know About Storytelling I Learned from Star Wars

30 January 2014

From Double Barrel:

The original Star Wars trilogy is the primary cultural touchstone for an entire generation. Like a billion other people my age, I’ve seen them enough that I pretty much know every frame of all three movies. Because of its familiarity, its simplicity, and its specific brilliance, Star Wars has excellent lessons to teach those of us who like to write and draw stories.

. . . .

Lesson 2: Make the Fantastic Familiar

One of the things that Star Wars did that was new to viewers was that it presented fantastical ships and wondrous places and then had its characters move about and around them as if they were completely ordinary. Luke Skywalker’s landspeeder, a fast, sleek hovercraft that anyone even now — much less in the 70s — would drool over, is sold, presumably for scrap metal, without a second thought. The Millenium Falcon, one of coolest, most iconic spaceships in all pop culture, when revealed for the first time, gets the following comment (say it with me now): “What a piece of junk!” To the characters, a landspeeder is a pickup truck, the Falcon is a rusty old 18-wheeler, and a city of robots, monsters, clone soldiers, and weirdos is no more than “a wretched hive of scum and villainy.”

Beyond that sort of atmospheric dressing, what made Star Wars stand out was that these situations that the characters found themselves in, as fantastic as they were, are familiar to us. Even here, on Earth, we can sympathize with the boy on the moisture farm who has to stay another season instead of do something interesting like join the rebellion. We can recognize the type of cocksure wise guy who spends all his time fixing up his old ride, hanging out with a hirsute buddy, and thinking he’s smarter than everyone else. The things we find familiar in these alien worlds allow us to think that the events that we’re seeing are more than just thrilling and strange, they’re important. They impact us, because they’re disrupting something that we understand. We have a stake in this story.

. . . .

Lesson 4: String Together Great Scenes, Each with a Definable Goal, in a 3-Act Structure

I think I was actually an adult before I really looked at the logical progression of events in the Star Wars movies, as in: who wanted what, in what order did things happen, and why. Part of it was because I had seen it as a child and didn’t care about that kind of stuff then, but the other part was that Star Wars never delivers a scene just to move the story along. There is always a definable goal that the characters have to accomplish: escape, find runaway droid, hire a pilot, rescue the princess, turn off the tractor beam, blow up the Death Star, etc. Each scene is entertaining, each scene has a sub-goal that serves the greater purpose of the plot, and each scene makes sure you know everything you need to know to enjoy it. When Luke, et al. get to the Death Star, we’re not wondering about what the rest of the rebellion is doing. We’re not worried about anything other than finding out what’s on this station and rescuing the princess.

. . . .

Because Star Wars takes hardly any risks whatsoever with its structure, it comes across as a very familiar story to us, despite the fact that what we remember are the brand-new, never-before-seen effects, aliens, and worlds. The familiarity means that we can more easily enjoy what is new.

Link to the rest at Double Barrel and thanks to Scott for the tip.

Self-Published Titles Take Top Ten Spots on Kindle Germany List

30 January 2014

From Digital Book World:

Self-publishing is blooming around the world. One indicator is that the ten best-selling books in Amazon’s Germany store are self-published, according to one blogger (in German).

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to David for the tip.

Calling Miss Manners

29 January 2014

From the Page-Turner blog at The New Yorker:

We have an epistolary crisis in this country—a shortfall in valedictions, or sign-offs. The salutation, or greeting, doesn’t seem to be a problem. Though I see “Hi” trying to sneak in, “Dear so-and-so” has hung on pretty well and can be used on anyone from your mother to the Department of Motor Vehicles. But what do we do at the end of the letter? When I was young, you used “Sincerely” on anyone who didn’t get “Love.” Now that I’m older—or the world is older—I’m supposed to choose among a lot of subtle variants. “Love” is still fine, for those you love. Ditto “XXX.” (The English seem to favor “Love.” Americans like the “X,” which, though it means “kiss,” still seems a bit less fervent.) Then, I guess, comes “Yours,” and I use it, though it feels old-fashioned—not to mention the fact that there are plenty of people I like without being theirs. I never do “Warmly,” “Affectionately,” or “Cordially.” They all sound fussy to me. As for “Ciao” and “Ta-ta,” I don’t want to talk about it.

. . . .

Now come the businesslike phrases: “Very truly yours,” “Best wishes,” “Best.” (Also “Sincerely yours,” where our old “Sincerely” is operating in a new key.) These are all completely O.K., except that, if you use them on a person to whom, while you’re not close, you’d like to show some warmth—the person got your child a summer job, or you want him to—they feel a little stiff. What I do here is pump the words up a bit: “Very best,” “Very best to you,” “My best to you and Susie,” etc. The “my” makes a difference.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Snark Aeternum,

PG

There’s no such thing

29 January 2014

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.

Terry Pratchett

Wordhoard

29 January 2014
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From the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Day:

wordhoard, n.

. . . .
A store of words; (in later use esp.) the vocabulary of a person, group, or language.

. . . .

eOE   Metres of Boethius (partly from transcript of damaged MS) vi. 1   Ða se wisdom eft wordhord onleac, sang soðcwidas.

. . . .

1850   M. F. Tupper >King Alfred’s Poems 27   Then did Wisdom again Unlock his word-hoard well.

Link to the rest at Oxford English Dictionary

North Tahoe/Truckee’s only bookstore to stay open

29 January 2014

From the Tahoe (California) Daily Tribune:

The story of the Truckee Bookshelf will continue for the foreseeable future thanks to its readers.

“They did it,” said Debbie Lane, owner of the bookstore. “It takes a community for the bookstore to survive, and I think they stepped up to the plate.”

. . . .

After 21 years in business, the Bookshelf — the North Shore’s last remaining bookstore — found itself struggling due to decreasing sales. Contributing factors included the store’s relocation to the Westgate Shopping Center and the growth of online-based retailers.

In an effort to save the Bookshelf, Krista Strecker’s 10th-grade English class at Truckee High School helped organize a community rally on Nov. 23, 2013, that generated record-breaking sales for the business.

. . . .

As for long-term planning, several business models such as membership and co-op models are being examined.

Link to the rest at Tahoe Daily Tribune

Rant: Hiring an editor

29 January 2014

From Janet Reid, Literary Agent:

Question: I attended a conference in Southern California a little over a year ago where each participant on each of the author/agent/publisher-type panels urged the budding authors to pay an editor or professional reader to read and edit the book before an agent is even queried.

At the conference, I ended up at dinner with a New York agent who had been on those panels. She told me that her office has a separate business of doing just this, under a separate name, email, etc.; editors who are paid to read and comment and/or line edit manuscripts. She certainly was legit-had an author featured at the conference, great website, several agents in her firm, etc.

Sooooo, later in the year, I contacted her about having her or another editor read and provide comments to me. My problem is that my book is always requested by the agents I query, and after the first 50 pp. they request the entire mss. But, in the end they reject it. I wanted to pay someone in her editing group to advise me on how to fix the problems with the last half of the book. We negotiated a price for just reading and comments (no line edit) and I sent it off. She was enthusiastic about the book, and for three months we emailed back and forth. I finally asked for the comments by the end of October. She agreed, asked for a one-week extension. After that, I never heard from her again. FYI: I paid her $800. We kept her reading fees and contacts separate from her agent email.

As an addendum: At the same time, a well-known agent had my mss. In the end, she, too, rejected it but actually told me exactly why. Her three short sentences provided me with more guidance than I received from the person I paid.

. . . .

This is my [Janet Reid’s] reaction when I read your email:

But I wasn’t sure who I wanted to punch first, you or that idiot agent.  You, for not asking the questions you needed (see below) and not standing up for yourself, or that idiot agent for lying through her teeth and cheating you out of your money.

. . . .

“She certainly was legit-had an author featured at the conference, great website, several agents in her firm, etc.

THIS IS NOT HOW YOU DETERMINE IF AN AGENT IS ANY GOOD!!! The question is “what has she sold!?”

And more important: Have you read the books she’s sold? Did you like them?  There are a lot of VERY good agents out there who rep books I hate.  There are agents who sell books I’ve turned down on submission.  In other words, even if she’s a very good agent (and I do not know that from what you’ve said in that sentence) she might not have a clue about your book or be a good fit for it.

. . . .

And you are ok with giving up $800 and the critique cause you don’t want to MAKE TROUBLE?? Honest to godiva if this isn’t prime facie evidence of why writers need agents, well, I’ll boil my hat and eat it for brunch.

Look.  You’ve been badly used here and it’s time to take some steps.

First: certified letter to Agent Pond Scum at her Editor Purloin address and you ask for your money back.

Second: if you don’t get your money back in the time frame specified (30 days) you report the agent to AAR if they are a member.  And by GOD you get over to Absolute Write and see if anyone else is having this problem.  AND you alert Victoria Strauss, who keeps files on this kind of chicanery and a blog about how to spot these guys.

Link to the rest at Janet Reid, Literary Agent and thanks to Jessica for the tip.

Two Prospectors: The Letters of Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark

29 January 2014
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