Telling Stories: Her Morning Elegance

I first saw this video a few years ago now, but I just came across it again recently. I figured that this was a good place to put it, especially because it tells a story in its own way. And if you can’t tell, I enjoy stories. I’m not entirely sure what this one is but I know its there – there’s a new story prompt/idea right there – go for it! The girl with the red hair wakes up and …?

In other news, I have been freelancing recently. So far it is going pretty well. I have gotten a few different jobs, and I enjoy the structure that it has been giving my days. I have been writing a few things, editing a few things, and spending lots of time in cafes around the city. There should be a book out there somewhere called The Freelancer’s Guide to the Cafe’s of New York. Which ones have accessible plugs for laptop chargers? Free wi-fi? Good sandwiches? Chai tea lattes? Good atmosphere? There are just so many things to talk about!

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Time Travel: Choose Your Own Adventure

Today I will not be talking about the popular Choose Your Own Adventure Series from back in the day. Instead I am talking about Stephen King. Now, I have never read a Stephen King novel before. This is mainly because I don’t really enjoy the whole thriller/horror genre, and I like to be able to get to sleep at night. But when a friend pointed out to me that King’s latest book 11/22/63 deals with time travel, and I am writing a story that deals with time travel, I figured I should check it out. I particularly wanted to see how he constructs time travel in the novel, how his characters deal with it etc. For research purposes. I am charting unknown territory here. After all, Wilson Mizner, an American playwright, said

If you steal from one author, its plagiarism; if you steal from many, its research.

So in my literary travels I might be keeping an eye out for time travel books. I still like variety in my reading habits, and if I read too much of one thing I need a break, but every now and again I might throw some time travel in there to keep me on top of things.

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Anyway, back to the book. The premise of King’s novel revolves around a plan to go back in time to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK in Texas on November 22, 1963. King’s protagonist, Jake Epping is sent on a mission by his colleague, Al to travel through a wormhole in Al’s store room that drops him off in the summer of 1958. Epping’s mission is to take a new identity and stop the JFK assassination. Through the butterfly effect: the idea that changing one event can alter many others, Al and Jake plan to save the world. I am interested that King chose this moment in history to change – it is definitely a big one, but his explaination behind it left me wanting to know more.

Now, I feel like I should put a disclaimer that I have not finished this book yet. I have not been reviewing the few books that I haven’t finished since starting this blog. But I do want to discuss this one, even though I am only about 300 pages in – as I said, it is a long book. It is relevant, after all to my story idea, and it is an interesting read, although at times it can be over written. I have been enjoying it, and am planning to finish it, but it is a very dense, long historical book, and I just finished another good dense, long historical book. As I said before – I like variety in my reading selections. So I am planning on returning to this book in the near future after reading some fun YA.

I knew that Stephen King is well known in his genre of horror and triller novels, but I did not know that he had branched out beyond that theme as well. Although 11/22/63 has some very dark and haunting elements to it that echo King’s genre, I would not say that it falls into the same category as most of his other books. He has also written a book On Writing, which looks interesting. I was impressed by King’s writing style – genre fiction tends to be popular for the plot as opposed to the writing style, but then again it is Stephen King we are talking about here. And 11/22/63 is considered to be more literary science fiction. I pictured the opening scene of 11/22/63 being studied in literary or writing classes – all the key elements are there in just a few pages. We learn about the protagonist, we see his motivation that drives him through the rest of the story emerge, and we get his backstory. And bam we are in the middle of the story.

So as I said earlier in the post, I read this to see how King wrote time travel. Right from the start I could tell that it was not the same route that I was taking with the subject. Jake Epping goes through a portal/wormhole, while my characters have a belt that does the work for them. This means, that since Jake was dropped off in 1958, he has some time to kill before saving Kennedy in 1963. It is in this portion of the novel that Jake makes his mission personal. He has some of his own business to deal with, and takes it upon himself to save the family of one of his students from a brutal murder. This gives Jake a sense of motivation, but this also develops into a bit of a hero complex later in the story. It also makes the book very long.

Another difference that I saw, and that King emphasized in his book, was that every time Jake entered 1958 through the portal it was a do over. Everything he or anyone else had managed to change in the past was erased, and he would have to do it again. This meant that King had to rewrite scenes that the reader had previously read. In my opinion, he did a good job of writing a scene from an alternative POV, which is an interesting challenge within itself. That is something I am going to keep an eye out for as I continue the book. King also does a good job of creating a world that no longer exists, a world where Jake can no longer use his cell phone, and  has to use different money. This was especially interesting after reading Fall of Giants, which also set up a world that doesn’t exist anymore, but on a much more global scale. King nailed down the small rural town feel of the late ’50’s, and really invested in his characters from the past. The setting has a sense of hyper reality to  it that makes the past seem familiar whether a reader has read through it or not.

I was thinking about this the other day – time travel is a subject that has been seen in tv shows and novels again and again, but there is no one way of doing it. I am not saying that there should be, instead I am saying the opposite. It makes the research and creation process more interesting, at least for me, with all the different options there are out there. The idea of time travel itself is cannon, but the rules stop there. You can do whatever you want – you can choose your own adventure. Some travel around in a little blue box, while others walk through a wormhole, and still others fly through space in a car from the ’80’s. Some even stay in Neverland. But it’s all time travel in its own right. Just as long as everything fits together within the realms of the story.  I know I’m writing about World War I, but I’m excited to see how I get there and what happens while I’m there.

Which American Writer Was Expelled from West Point for Marching in the Nude?

You know those random facts? The ones that only seem to come in handy during an awkward lull in conversation at cocktail parties? For example, more monopoly money is printed in a year than real money throughout the world. The average person laughs 13 times a day. Human dreams last only 2-3 seconds. Facts like that. They won’t necessarily change the world, although the dream one is an interesting insight into the human brain, but they always seem to pop up at odd times none the less, whether they are true or not. They also live in abundance on the internet.

It is my interest in random fun facts and trivia that made me glob on to Lit Wit, a set of literary trivia cards that I got for my birthday last week. Categories include authors, titles, texts, and genres. I read through most of the deck in a night, and am hoping that these random facts will come in handy during trivial pursuit. Who knows when you will need random literary facts in life?

My favorite question, and the one that has stuck with me the longest, brings me back to the title of this post: Which American writer was expelled from West Point for reporting to march wearing nothing but white gloves?

My first thought was Ernest Hemingway – since he writes frequently about war and battle, it would make sense that he attended West Point at some point in his life. But at the same time, I feel that he was invested so deeply in honoring one’s country that he would not pull such an act unless he was sufficiently drunk.

My next thought was maybe one of the beat poets like Kerouac or Ginsberg. Beat poetry was a sort of stick-it-to-the-man era, and strutting around military school in the nude could be seen as some sort of heroic protest at the time. But once again I was wrong.

The correct answer is (drum roll please): Edgar Allan Poe. Yes, after being unable to support himself, Poe joined the army and later attended West Point. Troubles with his foster family at this time caused them to disown Poe, and he decided to leave West Point by marching in the nude and missing classes, formations, and church services. (Background info on Poe’s life is from the ever-trusty Wikipedia)

So there you have it. Before Poe started raving about ravens and married his 13 year old first cousin, he was kicked out of West Point for marching in the nude. He was also the first famous American author to try and make a career out of writing with no “real job” on the side. Maybe that contributed to the darkness of his writing and with the struggles that he faced during his lifetime. Which is why I was so surprised, I guess, that he would do such a jovial thing as walk around military school naked. Who knew?

Anyway, I just thought that was an interesting tid bit of information. I guess the fact that I find this kind of thing interesting pegs me as a nerd, particularly of the book variety. That, and my Charles Dickens action figure that I got from The Strand a few months ago.

The Golden Age of Publishing

Last week NPR’s Audie Cornish talked with Michael Pietsch and Mark Coker about the future of the publishing industry. Pietsch currently is head of  Little Brown and will come on as CEO of Hachette in the spring. Coker is the founder of Smashwords, a self publishing website platform that was founded in 2008. They discussed the future of publishing in today’s changing marketplace.

I have heard more opinions on today’s publishing industry in the past six months than I ever have before in my life. I have seen optimism, pessimism and skepticism from professionals in the industry, although there have been many more positive attitudes about the future of publishing than one might think. I talked about this subject a few months ago with my post on ebooks versus print books. With new technology comes new challenges and new opportunities.

In his interview Mark Coker,  stated that traditional publishing venues will become more obsolete in the coming years with the rise of the ebook and the self publishing marketplace.  He says that self publishing went from being a “last resort…for failed writers [to] the option of first choice for writers.” He says that books will become more varied, pronounced,  and books that match their unique interests will become more available to more readers around the world”. He calls this the early stages of a renaissance in publishing. He says that instead of publishers deciding if a book is worth reading this job will transfer to the readers.

Pietsch agrees with Coker that this is a great time for books and publishing, but he stands firmly by the fact that traditional publishing houses are a vital element of this golden era. He says that Smashwords is a great addition to the publishing industry, but is not replacing traditional methods. He says that “…the ways that publishers can work to connect readers with writers now are the kinds of things that publishers have dreamt of doing since Gutenberg first put down a line of type.” According to Pietsch, a publisher’s job of getting good books out to the public has not changed. It is how the news gets to the public that has changed. The internet and social media allows excitement and news about a book to be “amplified, and repeated and streamed and forwarded and linked” whereas before excitement was primarily based on book reviews in papers. Even if a book did get into the New York Times best seller list, the Book section of the paper only comes out on Sunday. Pietsch says that this new technology and connectivity of the internet and social media has “energized the whole business in a thrilling way”.

When asked about publishing houses picking up self published authors, Pietsch says that the reason the writer would choose to do this is for marketing reasons. They have already created their work and gotten it out there, but now they have the chance to be backed by a big name publisher, and have the resources of that publisher’s marketing department open to them. Whether you are a fan of 50 Shades of Gray or not, you cannot ignore the fact that at least one of the reasons that it became such a big phenomenon was that it has Random House’s name and reputation attached to it. These marketing departments also have a broad view of the current marketplace beyond the traditional bookstores to include special markets such as Target, Costco, and other potential sellers of books.

Social Media is a huge part of any business now a days, including the business of publishing. While I was at NYU hardly one lecture would go by without the mention of Social Media. While I believe that not every business, needs to be on every platform, social media does allow businesses to get information out to the public than they would otherwise. Twitter is particularly vital to this process I believe with its fast paced updates and wide range of users. While I was at NYU I worked as a Social Media Director for our mock magazine brand, and really saw the Social Media process in a new light. It really allows an industry to target a particular audience in a new way. It might feel like Twitter has been out for a while and isn’t really news anymore, but in the large scheme of things, and in the large scheme of the publishing industry in particular, Twitter is still a new phenomenon.

Although they come from different sides of the industry both Coker and Pietsch agree that now is a really interesting and positive time for the publishing industry. There are many more venues for content to get to readers than ever before. There does seem to be a sort of on going battle between traditional and self publishing venues going on here, but at the same time they do seem to be coexisting as well. Perhaps when a balance is struck that is when we will enter the next stage of the publishing renaissance of the 21st century.

Tackling World War I: Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

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Last night I finished reading Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants before going to bed. I devoured his book Pillars of the Earth a few years ago over a winter break, and have had my eye on this book ever since. I have always been interested in 20th century history, and I am looking forward to seeing what he does in the next two books of his trilogy.  I was also  particularly interested in this book now because I wanted to see how an author approaches and writes about such a monstrous topic as World War I, since I might be dealing with that era in my story that I have mentioned before. (Side note – the scene that I have in that post looks very different now, and will probably look very different in the future as well). I have not studied or looked into World War I in detail since studying it in History class in high school, and I was looking forward to revisiting that era, and to see what Ken Follett did as a writer to transport his reader to the early 20th century. i also want to read his second book, Winter of the World, which came out this September.

Fall of Giants follows the story of a number of Europeans at the beginning of the 20th century. Follett’s style when it comes to historical novels is to create a number of fictional families and follow their heritage through the years. He focuses specifically on Britain, Germany, Russia, and American characters, which will easily take him right through to the end of the 20th century.

As I said before, I was particularly paying attention to the way that Follett talked about, and recreated World War I. Fall of Giants in quite the tome of a book, and Follett makes sure to at least touch on every element of a most internationally complex era. I learned things about World War I that I had not known before, and although I am not a history buff I do enjoy the subject. I cannot imagine the research that went into writing this book.

What makes Follett’s world so real is the detail and personable characters that he puts into it. Follett has a variety of characters ranging from wealthy Brits and Americans to servants, coal miners, and Russian activists. Through these characters he can give his readers a first hand look into the complication of events leading up to the war,  The Battle of the Somme, The Russian Revolution, Woodrow Wilson’s White House, or the Paris Peace Conference. It wouldn’t surprise me if Fall of Giants was the most comprehensive historical novel of the early 1900’s out there today. The international atmosphere of the early 1900’s is highlighted from the beginning of the book through wealthy multinational dinner parties in fancy manor houses where international politics are the main conversation topic. After all, most of the monarchs of Europe at this time were all cousins, and descendants from Queen Victoria. Follett discusses this fact verbatim, but also mirrors this international intimacy through the relationships of his characters, and their alternating viewpoints and plot lines. All the characters keep on running into one another whether it is on the streets of London or in the battlefield, which gives the reader the sense that although the world is at war, it is a very small world to begin with. The relationships between the characters also lighten the tone of this highly political novel, making it two parts international politics, one part soap opera drama.

I thought that at times the pacing of the novel could be changed, although of course that is difficult to deal with when the novel is based so firmly in historical events. In terms of the battle scenes, Follett writes it so that almost every male character goes off to war at the same time and then comes home at the same time as well. This makes certain sections of the novel saturated with either war or home life, and could make the reader question the likelihood of this happening – that every male character would be on the exact same schedule. It also made the scenes of war after their respective times at home seem slow. Of course, there was an inordinate amount of fighting during World War I, but I would have liked to see some fighting interspersed with some home life rather than everyone being in the same place at once.

Despite that small detail, I really enjoyed The Fall of Giants, and am hugely impressed with what Ken Follett has managed to put together. He has also set himself up nicely for Winter of the World by introducing the problems that lead into World War II at the end of the novel. If you view Fall of Giants as a highly politicized fictional story of the era, and Downton Abbey as a much more domestic fictional story of the era, I am aiming for my story line (the parts of it that do take place in the early 20th century that is) to be somewhere in the middle – hopefully. Still, I am very glad to have read this novel, both from a research point of view and one of just looking for a good book to read. I highly recommend it to history buffs and readers a like, and I am looking forward to seeing how Ken Follett recreates the rest of the 20th century.