7 Signs You’re Stuck in Research Hell

26 May 2017

From Writerology:

I used to be the absolute worst at research. It wasn’t the research process I couldn’t handle—just that my research never ended. I didn’t know when I had enough information to reinforce my outline. I never called my research “done” and turned my attention to writing.

A lot of my story ideas languished in the research phase, never making it to draft form. Certainly part of the problem was my inexperience. I didn’t know how to slap myself on the wrist and say, “You’ve googled enough.” But insecurity also played a big part. I had convinced myself that I didn’t know enough to write my stories well. I thought that if I just read one more book, watched one more video, visited one more museum, I would finally have “all the information” to write the story.

. . . .

Sign 1:

Your Story Sounds Like a Textbook 

People read textbooks to learn. They read fiction for entertainment. A book that is dry, lacking a compelling plot, and devoid of sympathetic characters will lose readers’ interest within five pages.

If this sounds like you, the problem might be that you’ve spent so long reading academic and technical books for your research that you’ve shut off your “fiction brain.”

. . . .

 Sign 3:

You’ve Forgotten What Your Story is Really About
Maybe when you started it was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast set at the height of the Mongolian empire—and now there’s all kinds of stuff in there about bow mechanics, religious rituals, horses, a side plot about tattooing, and what was the climax supposed to be again?

It’s okay to be inspired by your research, as long as that research doesn’t send you off on a tangent (or twelve) that will confuse your view of the plot.

Link to the rest at Writerology


Rock Canyon

25 May 2017

PG realized he hadn’t posted any photos recently.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but he was in a photo mood today.

The photo in this post is the entrance to a canyon, Rock Canyon, that extends quite a distance back into the mountains via various connecting and crossing trails. One crossing trail is about 100 miles long. As you can see, the photo was taken while there was still snow on the ground several weeks ago.

Whenever PG hikes up this canyon, he always sees it as a monumental place. During the shifting of ancient earth, mountains were cracked in half vertically. That crack is the canyon.

Either because of the hardness of the stone or the recency of the violent earth movement, there is relatively little erosion of the rock. In many places, you can visualize how the two sides of the canyon formerly fit together.

PG has seen Bighorn Sheep on the slopes of Rock Canyon. Where there are sheep, there are also cougars. PG hasn’t seen any of those, but he is acquainted with others who have.

Despite the impact the canyon has on PG, he has experienced difficulty in capturing his feelings in photos, although he has tried many times. He posted a photo taken farther up the canyon a couple of months ago that was a little more evocative of his feelings and gives a sense of the steepness of the canyon walls.

At the mouth of the canyon, the image results out of the camera were not satisfactory. However, with some post-processing, PG tried to bring out a sense that the canyon might be an entrance to a place of hidden mysteries.

Or maybe just a place full of rocks. You can click on the photo to see a larger version.



My name is Sherlock Holmes

25 May 2017

My name is Sherlock Holmes.  It is my business to know what other people don’t know.

-The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle


How the Owner of the Greatest Mystery Bookstore Pulled the Genre Out of the Muck

25 May 2017

From Atlas Obscura:

The mystery genre is in a boom. Eight of the top 10 fiction books on the New York Times bestseller list are either straight-ahead mysteries—detective stories, murder mysteries, propulsive crime novels—or thrillers heavily indebted to or intertwined with the mystery genre. Prestige TV shows are heavily tilted in favor of mysteries; there are two currently-running Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but Top of the Lake, How to Get Away With Murder, Mr. Robot, The OA, Pretty Little Liars, Big Little Lies, Broadchurch, True Detective, and about a billion others are littering our screens, not to mention the true crime trend.

Mysteries have always been around and always been popular, but they haven’t always been respected. Otto Penzler has had a significant hand in that transformation. He’s probably the most important figure in the history of mystery fiction who’s never written a mystery story.

You get to Otto Penzler’s New York office through a door in the Mysterious Bookshop, the world’s oldest and biggest bookstore focusing on mystery, crime fiction, espionage, and thrillers. The door is roped off with a big X made of yellow police tape reading CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS. Down a flight of stairs, his office is a low-ceilinged basement cube with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves on all four sides, stocked with anthologies and first editions as well as a random sampling of mass-market hardcovers and paperbacks. If his office was a store by itself, it would be the second-best mystery bookstore in the world.

Penzler is the owner of the Mysterious Bookshop (founded 1979) as well as The Mysterious Press, a publishing imprint he founded in 1975, and mysteriouspress.com, his ebook publisher. He has published most of the greats of mystery and crime fiction: Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, James Ellroy, Ross Thomas, Patricia Highsmith, Ross Macdonald, Ed McBain. Any of the major authors he hasn’t published are probably at least good friends of his. (In conversation, Robert B. Parker is “Bob” and Lawrence Block is “Larry.”) He has a trim white beard and a shock of white hair, and speaks with the confidence and enthusiasm of someone who works entirely too many hours for his age at a job he wouldn’t trade. He is not the least bit shy about criticizing authors he thinks are bad; he referred to both Thomas Pynchon and Isabel Allende as “dreadful!” in our conversation. “Otto is gentlemanly, courtly, and unfailingly gracious—but, when necessary, he can be strongly assertive,” writes author Joyce Carol Oates in an email. “I do have a story or two about Otto but don’t think it would be discreet to tell them….”

. . . .

Inside, every square inch of walls leading up to what must be 20-foot ceilings are packed with any book in which someone violently dies. There is an entire section for Sherlock Holmes books, including the many spinoffs written by dozens of authors. (The copyright on the character expired in 2014, meaning anyone can now write stories involving the characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle without paying a fee.) There are copies of long-defunct detective magazines like Black Mask. There is an entire section for what Penzler calls bibliomysteries—mystery books involving mysterious books. Murdered librarians, valuable manuscripts, that kind of thing.

Link to the rest at Atlas Obscura


Science fiction’s new golden age in China, what it says about social evolution and the future, and the stories writers want world to see

25 May 2017

From the South China Morning Post:

The science-fiction genre in China was little known before Liu Cixin was honoured with the Hugo Award for best novel in 2015 for The Three-Body Problem. The first book in Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, it tells of an alien invasion during the Cultural Revolution and has sold more than a million copies in China alone. The English translation was recommended by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to members of his book club, and praised by former US president Barack Obama as “wildly imaginative, really interesting”.

Last year, Liu’s compatriot Hao Jingfang earned a Hugo Award for Folding Beijing, in which the city is divided into zones, each with a different number of hours in the day.

Liu has been nominated for another Hugo Award this year, for the final episode in his trilogy, Death’s End.

. . . .

The two winning books are now being adapted for the big screen in China, marking a turning point for Chinese sci-fi and potentially expanding the genre’s exposure globally.

Some 104 original sci-fi titles were published in China in 2016, compared to 75 the previous year, and 461 novelettes were released last year.

Author Regina Wang Kanyu, 27, a long-time sci-fi fan, has witnessed its growth in recent years. “It’s the golden age of Chinese science fiction,” she says.

. . . .

Last month, writers Regina Wang, Wang Yao and Hao Jingfang attended Melon Hong Kong, the city’s first science-fiction conference to bring together Chinese and Western writers.

“It’s a market miracle,” says Wang Yao, who goes by the pen name Xia Jia. “Ten years ago [when I started writing], we could never have imagined that these opportunities would be available,” she says, referring to the translation of Chinese sci-fi books and film adaptions.

It’s not the first golden age of sci-fi in China, though. Wang Yao says that was between 1978 and 1983 during reforms initiated by late Deng Xiaoping. “It was thought that science fiction could cultivate a scientific spirit, and the authorities assigned authors to write books in the genre,” says Wang.

. . . .

 Although investors are eyeing sci-fi’s entertainment industry potential, the literature itself is not so highly valued. “The payment writers receive for fiction writing is very small. I also write for fashion magazines, which pay a lot more,” says Regina Wang. Since it is impossible to make ends meet writing sci-fi, most authors do it simply as a hobby.

Link to the rest at South China Morning Post


The Critical Marketing Challenge in Digital Times: What to Work on Next

25 May 2017

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

Every publisher with more than a handful of published titles has a daily challenge to assign the marketing resources available to where they will do the most good. Efforts no longer have to be restricted, as they sensibly were until the most recent past, by what titles have inventory in front of customers on store shelves. With more than half of book sales — and for many titles half of the print sales — taking place online, the lack of availability of copies in stores is no longer the insuperable barrier it once was to getting sales when a title has appeal in the marketplace.

In fact, better allocating their marketing resources may well have become the single biggest opportunity for publishers to improve sales in the digital age.

. . . .

What Pete learned through data-driven experimentation, which has been leveraged by OptiQly, is that Amazon reads dozens of ranking signals to determine its own marketing position on any book at any time. So the Amazon product page becomes a window into a title’s online positioning, if you know how to look through it.

From the user’s perspective, OptiQly looks at each book and gives it two “scores”: one for the “brand” (which most of the time means the author’s online footprint and credibility) and one for the “product”, which is the book itself. The higher the score, the more likely the product is to be successful within the online retail environment.

. . . .

OptiQly looks at the ecosystem outside of Amazon — as Amazon itself does — to find out whether there is interest in the title and the brand. But then it looks inside Amazon to see if people can find the title and whether it is positioned correctly. As Ruszala explains it, the book’s Amazon “page” is its storefront where the title can be — metaphorically — face out at eye level or spined on an ankle-level shelf.

Amazon is trying to put the most appealing title for you in front of you, and what Amazon considers the most appealing titles are merchandised directly by Amazon in a variety of ways, guaranteeing an uptick in sales, with no added marketing expense to the publisher.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files


Bookstores Suffer Unintended Consequences From Mark Hamill’s Campaign Against Fake Autographs

25 May 2017

From Reason:

In a galaxy far, far away, Luke Skywalker is the ultimate hero (or is he?), but here’s a note to state lawmakers in this galaxy: maybe don’t trust him to make policy for you.

California is learning that the hard way, as a new law championed by Star Wars actor Mark Hamill has landed the state in court. In that lawsuit, the owners of a California-based book store argue that new rules governing the sale of autographed memorabilia—like books signed by authors at events hosted by their store and scores of others around the state—are overly burdensome, threaten harsh punishments for minor infractions, and above all else are poorly written.

Under the terms of the law, which passed last year and took effect in January, retailers have to provide certificates of authenticity for all autographed merchandise worth more than $5. That doesn’t sound like a difficult burden for retailers, but look at what has to be included on that certificate.

The law specifies that those certificates must contain a description of the collectible and the name of the person who signed it, the purchase price and date, and an “explicit statement” of authenticity. It must also indicate how many items were signed, whether they are numbered as part of a series, and whether any more might be sold in the future. Oh, and there has to be proof that the seller is insured. And, of course, there has to be a certificate number provided by the bureaucrats at the State Board of Equalization (a real thing, believe it or not, tasked with collecting various taxes and fees for everything from gasoline to recycled computers). There’s a separate requirement for an “identifying serial number,” which, naturally, has to match the serial number of the receipt—a receipt that must be kept by the seller for no less than seven years after the transaction. Finally, the certificate of authenticity has to say whether the author provided his John Hancock in the presence of the dealer, or another witness, and include the name of the witness. (There is no word on whether the witness’ first born must also sign the form.)

. . . .

“This law’s expensive mandates — with voluminous reporting requirements and draconian penalties — create a nightmare for independent booksellers that thrive on author events and book signings,” said Bill Petrocelli, owner of the Marin County-based Book Passage, which has three locations around the San Francisco Bay Area. Petrocelli is the plaintiff in the lawsuit seeking a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the autograph law. The Pacific Legal Foundation, a libertarian legal nonprofit, is representing him in the lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed in federal court for the Northern District of California.

Anastasia Boden, an attorney for PLF, says the law does little to protect consumers from the dangers of fraudulently autographed memorabilia. Rather, the lawsuit alleges, the law will have a chilling effect on “truthful, non-misleading speech” protected by the First Amendment, as it will reduce or eliminate book-signing events, like the ones Book Passage hosts hundreds of times each year.

. . . .

“The public is being swindled on a daily basis and the numbers are huge. I just can’t keep quiet when I see people I love being hurt,” Hamill toldThe Los Angeles Times in 2016 as the bill was working its way through the legislature.

Link to the rest at Reason and thanks to Lucy for the tip.


How Fonts Are Fueling the Culture Wars

24 May 2017

From BackChannel:

Typography is undergoing a public renaissance. Typography usually strives to be invisible, but recently it’s become a mark of sophistication for readers to notice it and have an opinion.

Suddenly, people outside of the design profession seem to care about its many intricacies. Usually, this awareness focuses on execution.

. . . .

 But by focusing on the smaller gaffes, we’re missing the big picture. Typography is much bigger than a “gotcha” moment for the visually challenged. Typography can silently influence: It can signify dangerous ideas, normalize dictatorships, and sever broken nations. In some cases it may be a matter of life and death. And it can do this as powerfully as the words it depicts.

. . . .

Why We’re Afraid of Blackletter

You’ve seen blackletter typography before. It’s dense, old-fashioned, and elaborate. It almost always feels like an anachronism. It looks like this:

But usually when you see it in popular culture, it looks more like this:


You probably know blackletter as the script of choice for bad guys, prison tattoos, and black metal album art—and you wouldn’t be wrong.

Blackletter looks esoteric and illegible now, but it started off as a normal pattern that people across Europe used every day for hundreds of years. It stayed that way until pretty recently. It reigned as the dominant typeface in the English-speaking world for several generations, and remains popular in parts of the Spanish-speaking world today.

Why don’t we use blackletter anymore? The answer is literally “Hitler.” Nazi leadership used Fraktur, an archetypal variety of blackletter, as their official typeface. They positioned it as a symbol of German national identity and denounced papers that printed with anything else.

Link to the rest at BackChannel

PG reminds new visitors that he doesn’t necessarily agree with everything he posts on The Passive Voice.

For example, the use of the Fractur typeface by any government office in Nazi Germany was abolished by decree in 1941. The reason given was that the typeface was Jewish.


In a badly designed book

24 May 2017

In a badly designed book, the letters mill and stand like starving horses in a field. In a book designed by rote, they sit like stale bread and mutton on the page. In a well-made book, where designer, compositor and printer have all done their jobs, no matter how many thousands of lines and pages, the letters are alive. They dance in their seats. Sometimes they rise and dance in the margins and aisles.

Robert Bringhurst


Emily Dickinson’s Herbarium: A Forgotten Treasure at the Intersection of Science and Poetry

24 May 2017

From Brain Pickings:

In an era when the scientific establishment barred and bolted its gates to women, botany allowed Victorian women to enter science through the permissible backdoor of art, most famously in Beatrix Potter’s scientific drawings of mushrooms and Margaret Gatty’s stunning illustrated classification of seaweed. Across the Atlantic, this art-science adventure in botany found an improbable yet impassioned practitioner in one of humanity’s most beloved and influential poets: Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830–May 15, 1886).

Long before she began writing poems, Dickinson undertook a rather different yet unexpectedly parallel art of contemplation and composition — the gathering, growing, classification, and pressing of flowers, which she saw as manifestations of the Muse not that dissimilar to poems. (More than a century later, Robert Penn Warren would articulate that common ground in his observation that “poetry, like science, draws not only those who make it but also those who understand and appreciate it.”)

. . . .

Dickinson started studying botany at the age of nine and assisting her mother at the garden at twelve, but it wasn’t until she began attending Mount Holyoke in her late teens — around the time the only authenticated daguerrotype of her was taken — that she began approaching her botanical zeal with scientific rigor.

Mary Lyon, the school’s founder and first principal, was an ardent botanist herself, trained by the famous educator and horticulturalist Dr. Edward Hitchcock. Although Lyon encouraged all her girls to collect, study, and preserve local flowers in herbaria, Dickinson’s herbarium — with which I first became enchanted at the Morgan Library’s fantastic Emily Dickinson exhibition — was a masterpiece of uncommon punctiliousness and poetic beauty: 424 flowers from the Amherst region, which Dickinson celebrated as “beautiful children of spring,” arranged with a remarkable sensitivity to scale and visual cadence across sixty-six pages in a large leather-bound album. Slim paper labels punctuate the specimens like enormous dashes inscribed with the names of the plants — sometimes colloquial, sometimes Linnaean — in Dickinson’s elegant handwriting.

Link to the rest at Brain Pickings

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