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July 3, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- Tidbits

Items that piqued my interest over the past few weeks...

Your name up in lights (well, headlights)

This is the kind of thing that makes me shake my head, because it's nearly indistinguishable from satire.

Per a recent article in the UK's Daily Mail, successful British crime writer Peter James and his publisher, Pan Macmillan, have agreed to sponsor a police patrol car. The car has all the usual police markings, but is also painted with the author's name and slogans like "Peter James - No 1 For Crime Writing."

According to the Chief Superintendent, "The car will not be used to respond to emergency calls but is solely for use in the local community, to provide visibility and reassurance, and to provide a quick way for officers to get to their local neighbourhood areas."

I wonder how the officers feel about this.

Paper books not doomed after all (maybe)

According to a recent survey by Scholastic, "75% of kids age 5-17 agree with the statement, 'No matter what I can do online, I’ll always want to read books printed on paper,' and 62% of kids surveyed say they prefer to read books printed on paper rather than on a computer or a handheld device."

Contradicting this slightly, two out of three children believe that "within the next 10 years, most books which are read for fun will be read digitally – either on a computer or on another kind of electronic device."

The survey included 1,002 individuals--501 children plus one parent or primary guardian per child.

The ultimate online novel (or maybe not)

At the other end of the spectrum, we have Quillr, a "multimedia storytelling" concept invented by Canadian author Nicola Furlong. Furlong, quoted in ReadWriteWeb, describes the concept thus: "The text is punctuated throughout with video clips and photographs of actors recreating the characters and scenes. Music and sound effects further enhance this novel experience." The hope, apparently, is to appeal to the YouTube generation, with its taste for visuals and its Internet-nurtured inability to focus on any one thing for more than seconds at a time.

Ms. Furlong's novel, Here Ends the Beginning, is the first to be released in Quillr format. A video on Ms. Furlong's website provides an introduction ("an evolutionary chapter in publishing"), and the first five chapters are available for free.

As promised, the chapters combine text, music, still photos, and video--although, as with a regular book, most of it is text. I wasn't drawn in by the story, however, and I found the audiovisual elements distracting rather than intriguing. Halfway through the second chapter, my attention had begun to flag. I skimmed Chapter 3, and abandoned all hope at Chapter 4.

Perhaps, with a more compellingly written narrative (here's a plain HTML sample) and a better produced product (the little videos feature cheesy f/x and obvious amateur acting, and the music doesn't always seem to match the text), I might not have had this reaction. But I am also pondering the question: does catering to a short attention span actually exacerbate it?

The latest small press implosions

On the invaluable Dear Author blog, there's a lively discussion of New Concepts Publishing, which has been accused by one of its authors, Sydney Somers, of publishing unauthorized material.

More on this from Ellen Ashe, who reported problems at NCP last March, and Emily Veinglory at the EREC blog. Emily has also written about the long list of authors NCP has recently decided to ditch, possibly as a result of similar disputes. NCP has posted a "public notice" on its website listing the writers, and accusing Sydney Somers of "breach of contract."

Professional much?

Also via Dear Author, and a bit dated at this point, but if you haven't heard about this it's worth checking out for the sheer WTF of it all...complaints have been mounting about Highland Press, which not only chastises its authors for speaking out about their problems, but has a "secret" co-publisher (also a Highland Press author) who has attempted to game the Amazon review system by encouraging other Highland authors to vote down negative reviews of her own books.

Dear Author's Jane Litte provides an appropriate final word in her post, Heeding the Warning Signals in Epublishing:

But I also think part of my frustration with the epublishing industry is with the authors themselves. Blogs often publish warning signs...but frequently those warning posts will come with authors from that house chastising the blogger for spreading false and malicious rumors. Authors often ignore the warning signs, both before submitting and after. I was reading AbsoluteWrite Forum’s Bewares and Background Check the other day and I consistently marvel at the authors and wannabe authors who constantly oppose the good warnings that are doled out by those with experience...I wish that authors would heed these warnings more so we would have less of them.



Cheryl Pickett said...

I think that survey continues to prove the fact that we must continue to engage kids in reading and writing early on and then not stop.

In this day and age of "no child left behind" where teachers need to teach to the standardized test, I know many don't have the time to work on creative writing just for the sake of the art.

As busy adults/parents, it's also often hard to take the time to slow down and read with our kids or to give the example of being an avid reader.

This being the case, I also believe writers should use their talents to encourage kids in all the language arts whenever possible.

Hopefully, with our help, books, and the love of reading them, will be around for decades to come.

Jane Smith said...

Quillr? I'm going to pass on that one.

If I want to read something it's usually because I want to READ something. Not read a bit, watch a bit of TV, listen to a bit of music... I have the ability to concentrate.



Anonymous said...

I am reading, and watching, and I like it.
What's wrong with multi-tasking, especially when it's fun?

Anonymous said...

Multimedia books? That's so last year!

Can't watch video or listen to music while reading? Well, multitasking can be hard, but everyone can handle a few lateral shifts along the lines of "the next chapter is in comic format". Those aren't really hard. Try
Poignant Guide to Ruby. One of the few programming books where I actually learned something new and it was genuinely funny. =)

Anonymous said...

Regarding the Scholastic Survey, it appears children are reading and hearing the same forecasts about the demise of the printed and bound book that we have heard for thirty years. The fact that they prefer reading books in book form to digital options, and supplement their experiences with supplemental information gained on the Internet, encourages me to believe that it isn't over yet. The forecasts may remain just that, forecasts.

Elzabeth House

Anonymous said...

Since books began they have been illustrated. In a sense, then, incorporating modern media with text is following tradition.

Once the text alone is not the whole story, however, we have multimedia, and comparing such pieces to books is comparing apples to oranges. I would argue that graphic novels and children's picture books are really multimedia pieces: to tell their stories fully they require more than text alone.

I'm a playwright, and a play isn't itself outside of a full production--a reading, even a "staged reading," is a play in digest form.

Paper may get scarce or impractical, but I believe we'll always have books which are text alone, just as we'll always have all the rest of media.

We'll always have books because the experience of a book is closest to the experience of pure thought. I think this is so because images, sounds, any music, etc., are all in the mind of the reader alone, imagination fired by reading alone.

Heady stuff!

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