Friday, May 24, 2013

To Nook or not to Nook?

About six months ago I got myself a Samsung tablet. I intended to use it mostly for editing work, because at the time I was editing a lot of PDFs. And the Samsung had this very cool app for marking up PDFs and taking notes by hand.

But I've ended up using it mostly for the Nook app (and surfing the web, but that goes without saying). I realized that with any e-reader, the time lag between reading an interesting book review and owning the book in question goes from approximately a week (if one orders online, and even remembers to buy the book at all) to twenty seconds. After reading Broken Harbor, for instance, I immediately yanked from the ether all the remaining Tana French Dublin Murder Squad novels, the last of which I'm saving for my next long plane trip. I'm now champing at the bit for Suzanne Rindell's The Other Typist.

And yet. On the Samsung, at least, e-books can inject some serious aesthetic problems into the reading experience that you'd never experience with a physical book. As Joe Hill mentioned on Twitter, subtle but necessary formatting cues can go haywire in an e-book.

I'm about to finish Jo Walton's Among Others, which I happen to have in paperback form, and have found myself calmly immersed in a way I haven't achieved with the e-books. Much as I like Among Others, I don't think this is due to the writing alone. Hill goes on to make the point that while most of us don't really notice the formatting of novels (unless they have illustrations or other overt formatting effects), we do notice it when it's off. I now rather dread going back to the e-reader, even though I want The Other Typist asap.

There is also the awkwardness of holding the tablet. The Samsung is too heavy to hold with one hand, so I usually end up folding back the cover and balancing the thing on a pillow on my stomach while lying down. (Not that I wouldn't read lying down anyway, but the balance here is more delicate.) Finally there's the whole business of staring at a screen, which I've already been doing more or less all day, and the kind of cognitive buzzing that the screen creates in the background of the reading experience.

In short, add e-books to the list of Things I Am Ambivalent About. And add me to the list of People Who Are Ambivalent about E-books.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bigfoot and the Baby ... coming from Bona Fide Books

I am thrilled to report that my first novel, Bigfoot and the Baby, will be published by Bona Fide Books in spring 2014. Bona Fide is an innovative, exuberant small press, committed to literary fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, with a particular interest in the environment and the American West.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Ray Harryhausen and writing

In the NYT obituary for legendary stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, I found myself dwelling on this statement:
“There’s a strange quality in stop-motion photography, like in ‘King Kong,’ that adds to the fantasy,” he said in 2006. “If you make things too real, sometimes you bring it down to the mundane.” 
As a fiction writer--and reader--I've always agreed with this, without ever quite knowing why. Now I actually suspect it's because I grew up watching Harryhausen's movies, often on the big screen, in gorgeous Technicolor. The way Harryhausen's monsters moved impressed the hell out of me--at once faster and slower than humans, with starker contrasts between light and shadow. I don't remember precisely how they looked. The movement was what made them otherworldly, and therefore more real, in the sense of more plausible as monsters. Why would something from another world (or from the imagination) move as we do, and exist in precisely the same plane? The movements of Harryhausen's creatures made them seem both here and somewhere else at the same time--and that lent them real power and real magic. And as he suggests, the more realistic CG effects become, the more disappointing they become, even as we marvel at the technical achievement. The monsters really have been brought down to Earth.

That's probably not the *only* reason that I prefer a veneer of unreality in fiction. But if you're going to go ahead and create a world, why not let it shimmer and quake a little around the edges? Because you have made something. You have brought something into our world from another one--your imagination. That wonder and that strangeness, it seems to me, deserve attention.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Zap the "to be" verbs

Not until I started working for a marketing firm (yes!) did I realize the full insidiousness of "to be" verbs. Not only do they make your prose static, they can obscure the true meaning of your sentence by preventing you from finding the right verb--and with it, the right noun(s), adjective(s), adverb(s), and phrasing. I've noticed that, particularly when I write in a rush, "to be" verbs proliferate--because I don't take the time to ponder exactly what I want to say. And maybe that kind of rushing works for a first draft, when you don't want to pause and ponder, but simply "get it down." But during revisions, you can make a lot of amazing improvements by scrutinizing and replacing "to be" whenever possible.