Monday, October 31, 2011

Writing Beyond Racism

For many Americans the idea that they will be treated unfairly simply because of the color of their skin never even crosses their mind.
Unfortunately, the same is not true for all Americans.

Nearly a half century after the Civil Rights Movement many black Americans are still finding themselves underrepresented in nearly all aspect of American life. You can see this most clearly when it comes to the entertainment industry, specifically film and television. But you can also see it on the stage, or rather, behind the scenes.

Playwrights have been presenting American audiences with a distinctly "white" perspective of life because for the most part they have all been white themselves. The parts available for black actors have mostly been as character actors, stereotypical "black American" roles.

It would be great to see all perspectives of American life represented in live theater. Not just the lives of white Americans, or even black Americans, but ALL Americans. Writers have the ability to tell stories, share emotion and help us to learn how to relate to the characters we read about, or see on a stage or a television screen or in a film. Writers are a powerful force for cultural change, but only when they actually write something which is produced, read or shared.

This season, for apparently the first time, the American theater’s most visible platform will host as many as four distinct works written or adapted by African-American women.

Already running is The Mountaintop, about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., by young playwright Katori Hall and starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. Next month comes Stick Fly, Lydia R. Diamond’s upper-middle-class family drama featuring Dule Hill, Mekhi Phifer and Tracie Thoms, with music by Alicia Keys.

December will bring a new edition of the Gershwins-DuBose Heyward opera Porgy and Bess, with a revised book by Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog /Underdog).

And angling for a theater in the spring is By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, by another Pulitzer Prize recipient, Lynn Nottage (Ruined).

Playwrights such as Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote A Raisin in the Sun, and Ntozake Shange, author of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf, were forerunners of the current Broadway blossoming. But the fact is that few black women through the years have broken through as Broadway dramatists. (Nine plays by the most celebrated African-American playwright, August Wilson, have had Broadway productions.)


Friday, October 28, 2011

Why Haven't YOU Written A Biography of Steve Jobs? (Everyone Else Has)

The death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was sad news and certainly cast a shadow over the tech world in general. Jobs was a computer visionary and his work definitely changed the world we live in today. Whether or not his work warrants the deluge of biographies we are seeing is another matter.

It seems suddenly everyone wants to tell the story of Jobs' life; how he came to be who he was and how he did what he did. I am sure his biography makes for good read, but how many times can we hear the same story before we grow tired, distant or even resentful at hearing it again.

I think the proliferation of Jobs biographies has more to do with opportunistic writers than with his persona. It is easy enough to throw together a thousand pages on a topic you know has a good chance of selling, especially if you happened to have once met your subject at a cocktail party, convention, or your kids' elementary school bake sale.

My point isn't so much about whether or not Jobs' is worthy of a library full of biographies (or about the quality of Walter Isaacson's book) as it is about why writers can't be a little less like used car salesman and a little more like artists.

Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson he wanted him to write his biography because he's good at getting people to talk. Jobs, it turns out, didn't need much prodding, secretive as he was about both his private life and the company he founded.

"I just listened," said Isaacson, whose book, "Steve Jobs" (Simon & Schuster) went on sale earlier this week in the US. Jobs, who died October 5 at 56 after a long struggle with pancreatic cancer, was a man full of deep contradictions, a product of 1960s counterculture who went on to found what is now the world's most valuable technology company, Apple Inc.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Isaacson said Jobs was a compelling storyteller with "fascinating stories." Sometimes, the author would hear him tell those tales two or three times, often with slight variations. But through more than 40 conversations with Jobs, as well as interviews with his family, close friends, co-workers and rivals, Isaacson painted a rich portrait of a complex, sometimes conflicting figure.

Isaacson began work on the book in 2009 after Jobs' wife, Laurene Powell, told him that if he was "ever going to do a book on Steve, you'd better do it now." It was just after Jobs had taken his second medical leave as CEO of Apple, in January of that year. His third leave, which began in January 2011, would be his final one.

Click here to read more about Walter Isaacson's book.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Do Film Critics Still Matter?

When was the last time you based your decision to see a new film on the work of a newspaper film critic?

Be honest.

After all, what makes their opinion any more important than the opinion of the people you know?
For the most part it seems that professional film critics have gone the way of the dinosaur. In a matter of seconds you can see multiple film reviews from everyday people, just like you, or post a query on your Facebook page and find out who you know who has seen the film and what they thought of it.

Once upon a time film critics mattered because it was a much more difficult thing to know whether or not a movie was worth going to see. People relied upon the opinions of newspaper film critics before they shelled out their hard-earned cash on a ticket.

Personally, I think the death knell for film critics came with the Internet. before social media was even conceived people were flocking to sites like Rotten Tomatoes to share their film-going experiences. You could log-in and know whether or not a film was worth seeing in a matter of minutes--no subscription to a newspaper required.

This new biography of Pauline Kael hearkens back to a time when film critics were nearly as famous as the film stars they wrote about. Today they are mostly famous in the same way the Bengal Tiger is--as an endangered species.

THR: Has there ever been a biography of a film critic before? What about critics in other fields? What made writing about a critic, someone who by nature is a reactor, different from the other subjects you've tackled?

Kellow: I don't know that there has been a biography of a movie critic until now. There have been biographies of theater critics -- Kathleen Tynan wrote a wonderful one about her husband, Kenneth. One of my favorite aspects of working on Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark was the chance to track the influences that helped form her taste and style. Also, writing this book gave me a great opportunity to delve into the film history of the 1960s and '70s. It was exciting to show how what was happening on the screen really was, to a great extent, Pauline's life.

THR: Other than Pauline's published writing, what other material existed in archives or her personal collection for you to draw upon? Letters, diaries, datebooks, etc.?

Kellow: I had great luck in having access to Pauline's extensive archive at the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington. It's a treasure trove. There are very few letters from Pauline herself, but she seems to have saved nearly every letter she received -- even letters from fans and readers. She always said she didn't want a biography written, but she certainly saw to it that her life was meticulously catalogued, so I'm not sure I believe her.

Click here to read more of this interview.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Honesty Of "Writers for the 99%"

I have written before about the importance of recognizing that as writers we need to be cognizant of the fact that simply by observing an event we are affecting the event, and we should do our best to be honest about this fact with our readers.

A new book is coming out soon called "Occupying Wall Street: The Inside Story of an Action that Changed America" which attempts to explain what the movement was all about and what (if anything) it hoped to accomplish. The authors of the book call themselves "Writers for the 99%" and make no effort at concealing the fact they fully support the movement. In fact, it's a part of their marketing effort.

This is a far cry from writers who clearly have an agenda but are reluctant to make that agenda open for public scrutiny. As writers we walk a fine line between full disclosure and complete fabrication. I say a fine line because there is almost always an element of fabrication in even the most carefully scrutinized manuscript; not every detail is revealed to us as writers, leaving us to fill in some of the less impactful details. The more upfront we are about this fact, the more trusting the readers will become.

As a writer I often find myself re-inventing history as I go along. This is not new. Writers do this all the time and it's perfectly acceptable. What is NOT acceptable is tricking the reader into believing that what they are receiving is a perfect representation of what happened. In the end, anything which first goes through the filter of a human mind will always come out the other end slightly skewed.

That's a fact.
The book has already found a publisher, progressive OR Books, whose co-founder Colin Robinson spoke with HuffPo yesterday about the intentions of the book and the mechanics of writing collectively.

“This is also not a neutral book, it’s a book in support of the occupation…We really want to give the feel of being involved in the action, and that extraordinary feeling of solidarity that you get when you go into the park,” said Robinson on writers’ intentions.

Robinson says the book will inevitably be written by a group, but that since the goal is to create a narrative, not just to reprint interviews, what enters the final copy will be determined by a smaller group of editors and writers. “You can’t have consensus over every sentence of the book, obviously.”

When asked if the book would function as a “How To” guide to occupations, a sort of guidebook from the source material, Robinson said yes, that it would be a large part of it would be describing the “quotidian detail of what’s happening there” – how the general assembly runs, the collective kitchen, donations, etc.

Click here to read more about the "Writers for the 99%"

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book Review: Launch Out Into The Deep!

If you are looking for a reason to renew your faith in God you just might find it within the pages of “Launch Out Into the Deep!” the new book of essays by Acacia Beumer.
At once toughing and thoughtful, Beumer's stories are meant to inspire us and propel us to higher spiritual heights. It doesn't seem to matter as much to Beumer what you choose to believe, just that you have faith in something greater than yourself.
It is clear after just a few lines that Beumer herself has a deep residing belief in the Holy Spirit, but she doesn't seem interested in pushing that belief on her readers as much as she seems to want to kinder the fire of spirituality that she honestly believes resides in everyone.
Is her God your God? Is your God the true God? That is beside the point. What matters most to Beumer is that you read her stories and get inspired to rekindle your relationship with whatever you believe in and reignite the fire of spirituality which you might have lost somewhere along the way. And she does this by pointing out the true terrors in the world today. Not ghosts or goblins or aliens, but disease, crime and bullying. Things which many of us understand intimately.
Beumer makes no secret of the fact she firmly believes in fairytales and happy endings, and how this belief stems from her belief in a just and righteous God. What she does with her stories is weave a tale that helps you find the same belief within yourself even though you might feel you had lost it long ago.
Don't go looking for a lengthy manuscript heavy of proselytizing when you pick up “Launch Out Into the Deep!”, but do expect to turn your focus inward on your own sense of belief of faith.
You never know what you might find when you look into your own heart.

No one ever said life was easy. As long as we live on this Earth, we will experience heartaches, disappointments, rejection, and betrayal. Be encouraged. You are not alone, for your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same suffering (1 Peter 5:9). It is important to let go of hurtful memories from past experiences or relationships. Yes, people hurt you and said insulting things. It does not matter that they were Christians. When will you stop feeling justified in holding onto grudges, resentment, and bitterness? Do not allow their uncompassionate and insensitive actions and behavior to discourage you from trusting God. Has God failed you? Did God stop loving you? God never said men would not oppose you. He never said hardships would not come.

English English Is Better English

I love the English. England, Great Britain, that little island off the western coast of Europe. I love it.

I say this as a disclaimer about the following post wherein I will write about the wonderful words the English use and why they sound so much better than the ordinary English words I use every day.

Flourish. That's what it comes down to. The English write everything with flourish. They might only be compiling a grocery list but still, it sounds better to me than anything I've ever written.
The reason for this might have something to do with the fact the English are very patient. They are careful observers of the human condition, including introspection and self-examination. Maybe it's because they spend less time outside bathing in the sun and more time inside huddled around a warm pot of tea. Or maybe their culture has had more time development and therefore has learned to appreciate the intricacies of the human condition.

But don't take my word for it. Read this article about reports of the recent NFL game held in London. Clearly I am not the only one who has noticed the different in English English and American English, and the way those words are used....

The best part of the NFL’s now-annual trip to London is never the game: this year’s matchup was a Buccaneers-Bears stinker, and the 2010 game was a 49ers-Broncos doo-doo pie. No, the best part of the league’s trip to Wembley Stadium occurs the following day, when the British write about football and use words that Americans would never associate with our most American sport.
For instance: here is The Daily Mail’s description of a first quarter Matt Forte touchdown:

Forte was the difference between the offences. The 26 year-old — who has modelled himself on such legendary Bears running backs as Walter Payton and Gale Sayers — signalled his intent early with a slaloming 22-yard run, and made good on his mazy movement within a minute in the first quarter when he capitalised on a fine block by Roy Williams to sprint into the end zone.
“Slaloming?” I would like to see more of these distinctly British colloquialisms, please.

The ‘Bucs’ at least claimed a small slice of history in response, if only for the fact that Forte, making a rare lapse in dwelling too long on the ball, was flattened by Ronde Barber to produce the first safety points of these Wembley games. Even so, Tampa’s threat of a touchdown was minimal.
“Dwelling too long on the ball?” More! More!
 


Click here to read more about the English take on American football.


Monday, October 24, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Not Everyone Is A Writer

November starts the annual National Novel Writing Month event and you can expect hundreds of first time novelists (and just about anyone who thinks they have a story to tell) to begin churning out thousands of words in the hopes they can complete a novel in a month.

This isn't the first time I've written about NaNoWriMo. I've expressed my disdain for the event because I feel it does an injustice to the craft, the ART, of writing. It's great if you can put down 30,000 words of a novel, whether it takes you a month, a year or a decade. But just because you compile thousands of words doesn't mean you have written a novel.

Or that your novel is worth reading.

In fact there are thousands and thousands of 'novelists' out there and thousands more 'novels' gathering dust on bookshelves and in discount bins across the country and around the world. This is due to the fact that although everyone might have a story to tell, not everyone knows how to tell their story in a way which is pleasant for the reader.

I suppose there is value in the process, however. Any amount of writing is good practice for people who want to write stories, but I still firmly believe not everyone can be a writer. Just as not everyone can paint a masterpiece, or sculpt a block of marble or design a stunning dress.

It is long past time that people recognize writing is more than just having good grammar or the ability to spell. Weaving a story is an art; a well-defined art which only a select few possess. This is what makes Stephen King and Dan Brown and Shakespeare something more than simple word processors. They are artists who use words to create their pictures instead of paint or clay. To expect that composing a novel in 30 days makes you something other than a quick typist and a good speller is simply fooling yourself.

Now, this doesn't mean you shouldn't try. I encourage you to give it your best shot and see what happens. It certainly can't hurt, I suppose. As long as you remember than it isn't the number of words you compile which makes you a writer. It is your ability to tell a great story.


National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) gives writers an opportunity to complete a novel of their own.
After hearing Merrimack Public Library participated in this event, the city library decided to start a branch, led by Sherry Evans, head of public services at the library, and librarian Heather Armitage.
NaNoWriMo is held each November, and writers are given space in which to create a novel in 30 days. The partnership with libraries is called Come Write In.
A kickoff will be held at the library from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1, with food provided by Flatbread Co. An online forum in which writers can share ideas will be introduced at the kickoff. A Writer's Block Party will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 15, when Hallie Ephron, author of "Never Tell a Lie," will speak.
Each Tuesday of the month, the library's Hilton Garden Inn Room will be transformed into a writer's cafe from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The room will feature power cords for writers' laptops, snacks and a procrastination station filled with writing books for participants to peruse.
"The Seacoast is so rich with writers," Evans said. "We just want it to be celebratory."
Click here to read about NaNoWriMo in Portsmouth.

If you participate in NaNoWriMo send us a link. We would be happy to promote your hard work!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Re-Imagining Battlestar Galactica-Again

A writer has finally been hired for the much anticipated big screen adaptation of Battlestar Galactica, which will be directed by fan-favorite Bryan Singer.

John Orloff, author of the now playing "Anonymous" and a writer on "A Mighty Heart" and “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole” has already said he has a "radical take" on the Battlestar Galactica legend. What this means exactly is anyone's guess as the details of the project are being kept under wraps. Suffice to say, after the original 1970's version, the SyFy channel adaptation took the franchise into heretofore unchartered territory, namely much, much darker, sinister and depressing. Any re-imagined concept which attempts to go darker will have to present us with something akin to "The Day After" if it goes much further.

Orloff has some solid credentials as a writer. His previous work was quality story telling, so I am certain he would like to put his own personal stamp on the BG franchise. But forcing these characters into ever bleaker situations does little for the fans who prefer to see their heroes alive and kicking at the end.

Just a thought: Do you prefer happy endings over bleak ones?

A long time “Battlestar” fan, Orloff has an eclectic background as a writer — he first wrote “Anonymous” over a decade ago. Though it didn’t get made at the time (another little Bard movie called “Shakespeare in Love” beat it to theaters), Orloff’s script earned him a gig on Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks’ World War II HBO series “Band of Brothers.” He went on to write “A Mighty Heart,” the Angelina Jolie movie about journalist Daniel Pearl, and Zack Snyder’s “Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole.”
Orloff declined to elaborate on the project and would not specify whether the new film would update the original TV series or take off from Moore’s universe. Previous reports suggested that Singer’s movie would “reimagine” the former, which was produced by Glen Larson and starred Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch as hotshot pilots Starbuck and Apollo and Lorne Greene as Cmdr. Adama.

Click here to read more about Orloff's plans for Battlestar Galactica.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Celebrate 'National Day on Writing': Go Write Something

Today, Oct. 20, is the 3rd annual National Day on Writing. To celebrate, writers are being encouraged to share their inspirations and wisdom on writing under the Twitter hashtag #whyIwrite.

Author Neil Gaiman tweeted: “Because I can lie beautiful true things into existence, & let people escape from inside their own heads & see through other eyes. #whyIwrite.”

Sounds like a good reason to me.

The fact is, these days writers are a dime a dozen. Everyone has a story to sell and no compunction against trying to tell the story themselves. It doesn't take a degree in liberal arts to make you a writer--just a pencil and some scraps of paper are all rapper Eminem had on him when he started writing rhymes, and look at him now.

By celebrating the work of all writers we should recognize that there is a writer living within each of us. Everyone is a writer, some better than others of course, but everyone who is literate has the capacity to write a story, thus becoming a writer.

The true question shouldn't be "why I write" but rather, "how I write." What form, what outlet did you find for your written stories? Poetry written on bathroom walls? An underground newsletter printed on a beat-up old copier? A cocktail napkin?
And what becomes of the things you write? Who reads them and what impact, if any, do those words have on their life?

That is the true power of writing and its most important contribution to our world.

Today is the third annual celebration of National Day on Writing. To celebrate, the National Writing Project is hosting the “Why I Write” project.

Follow this link to learn more about all the activities. Writers and readers can participate by submitting essays on Figment.com, watching The New York Times learning center interviews, or reading blog posts at the Edutopia community.

Here’s more from the release: “The ‘Why I Write’ project aims to create a national discussion about the importance of writing by collecting essays from people, interviewing authors, collecting student essays and spreading the word throughout the country as one way to celebrate the National Day on Writing this week. On the National Day on Writing, people will tweet why they write with the hashtag #whyiwrite—with the goal of creating a trending topic on Twitter—and also post their musings about why they write on Facebook.”

Click here to get the links and learn more about the #whyIwrite project.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lemony Snicket and 'Occupy Writers' (For Kids!)

Sure, you can drag your kids to your local "Occupy Wall Street' protest, but will they really learn anything about the issues? Probably not.

The fact is, the issue is so complicated and the protests so convoluted that trying to explain it to an 8-year-old might not be the easiest job in the world. Lemony Snicket, the pen name of author Daniel Handler, has created a series of videos to help make sense of it all from a child's perspective.

Handler has also created 'Occupy Writers' a web site devoted to helping writers support the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement both domestically and around the world. The site posts the names of authors who support the movement and encourages them to visit the movement and put pen to paper to write what they see in whatever form they wish.

I have written before about the power of the written word to influence global events. It seems there has been no more important moment in history for writers to take up the cause of the Common Human in support of equality and fairness for all.

Written in Snicket’s trademark black comedic voice, the observations range from the instructive to the cheeky: “People who say money doesn’t matter are like people who say cake doesn’t matter — it’s probably because they’ve already had a few slices,” he writes.

As kids continue to watch the Occupy Wall Street movement unfold around the world, Snicket isn’t the only one trying to teach them what anti-capitalism means.

Some parents are instructing kids by taking them to the scene of the protests. Kirby Desmarais told parenting blog “The Stir” that she took her 18-month-old daughter Georgiah to Wall Street, carrying a sign: “This child can’t afford health care,” because she thinks kids can reinvigorate the protest. Desmarais is just one of many moms who belong to the subset movement, Parents for Occupy Wall Street. On Columbus Day, more than a dozen children spent their day off helping out at Wall Street.

Click here to read about Occupy Writers and Handler's efforts.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

U.S. Works to Rejuvenate Afghan Journalists

Some American universities are working with universities in Afghanistan. Their goal is to fund American students to train there and to establish free press in Afghanistan.

The point is to flourish journalism in Afghanistan. The problem is journalism is dangerous in many countries still, including Afghanistan. Sending American students from universities like Ball State University and University of Arizona could be beneficial, but the question is will the opportunity be worth the risk for students?

San Jose State University and University of Nebraska in Omaha each received $1 million grants last year for the same program. Sending American students from the universities with grants this year Ball State University and University of Arizona could be beneficial, but the question is will the opportunity be worth the risk for students?

The U.S. is also providing a media operations center for each partner university in Afghanistan — basically outfitting buildings with TV and radio stations and installing miles of fiber optic cables to establish Internet access, said Jim Willis, a NewsOK blogger who is involved with the Ball State project.

“The State Department's interest in this is that if the media is allowed to grow and flourish in Afghanistan, they will be able to highlight more of the things that the government is trying to do for the people,” said Willis, an Oklahoma native with family still living in Midwest City. “That kind of thing would undermine the propaganda being put out by the Taliban.”

Whether it will work is anybody's guess. The country's infrastructure is not up to the demands of a mass media as we know it, Willis said. The mountainous terrain interferes with television signals, and the breadth of the country and political realities make distribution of newspapers difficult. Internet access is not widely available, and connections are slow. Radio is perhaps the most effective way to reach people.

Read more about the dangers of journalism in third world countries and the proposed teaching curriculum by clicking here.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Amazon Is Providing Benefits For All Authors

Amazon Publishing House is planning on publishing 122 books this year. Those books will appear in both physical copies and e-books.

To all published authors (not just ones published by Amazon), Amazon is giving access to Nielsen BookScan sales data to see how many physical copies of their books have been sold in individual markets based on city. They are also making it easier for books to become popular without the input of critics.

Amazon is giving traditional publishing houses, critics and agents a run for their money by offering benefits to authors of all sorts.

Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. Amazon is directly threatening the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide. Many wise men in the publishing market have openly stated their concern has expressed fear of Amazon. Amazon executives declined to say how many editors the company employed, or how many books it had under contract. But they played down Amazon’s power and said publishers were in love with their own demise.

Amazon has started giving all authors, whether it publishes them or not, direct access to highly coveted Nielsen BookScan sales data, which records how many physical books they are selling in individual markets like Milwaukee or New Orleans. It is introducing the sort of one-on-one communication between authors and their fans that used to happen only on book tours. It made an obscure German historical novel a runaway best seller without a single professional reviewer weighing in. Amazon in short is eliminating all the middle men and giving all the budding authors out there a comfortable medium to sit back relax and put all the effort in writing the book rather than worrying about running from pillar to post.

Read more about Amazon's efforts as a publishing house by clicking here.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Art Spiegelman Still Talking 'Maus'

Art Spiegelman holds the distinction of being the first comic book author to receive a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for his semi-autobiographical book, "Maus." The comic features the story of Spiegelman's dad, Vladek, a Holocaust survivor, and how those experiences influenced his life and his relationship with his family, specifically his son.

If you have never read 'Maus' I whole heartedly encourage you stop what you're doing right now and go get a copy. It is an inspired and inspiring work. In his story the Jews are portrayed as mice and the Nazi's as cats, but that's hardly the point of the story. It is a unique glimpse inside the life of a man who suffered greatly and how that suffering was in turn passed along to his family, friends; how his suffering shaped his life and impacted everyone he met and everything he did.

In 'Maus' Spiegelman sought to tell a story and through its telling understand something about his father and himself. He has often said he learned much from his work, but now admits his learning didn't stop with the completion of that work. His latest book, 'MetaMaus' is an example of his continued introspection as he seeks to understand for himself, once and for all, just why he did what he did and just what he learned.

As every writer knows, the stories we tell, we share with our heart. Good or bad, Pulitzer Prize winners or pulp fiction--these are our innermost thoughts and reflections and we hold them close to our heart.

Art Spiegelman shared a piece of his life with his readers and in return, he reached farther inside himself than even he had expected. Every writer should be so lucky.

"Maus" was originally published in two parts, the first in 1986 and the second in 1991; it won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992, the first comic to be so honored. Still, for the last two decades, Spiegelman has kept doubling back, reconsidering the project, drawing its mouse-like protagonist into nearly everything.

"I'm blessed and cursed by this thing I made that obviously looms large for me and for others," he observes on a sunny October morning in Beverly Hills, eyes blinking behind wire-frame glasses as he smokes on the balcony of his room in the Four Seasons Hotel. "But the result is that I can't do this thing that seems quite easy but that I just can't do, which is: 'That's that, and now I'm working on a new thing, and it's a whole other thing.' I just can't get out of its gravitational field."

Click here to read the Los Angeles Times interview with Spiegelman about 'MetaMaus'.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Writer's 'Style' Under Judicial Scrutiny

A word to the wise: If you are basing your book on inside information from a source you promise to protect, be ready to actually protect them. That means you don't identify them in the story and take all precautions at guarding their identity in all future dealings pertaining to the story (book deals, follow-ups, dinner conversations, etc.)

New Your Times national security writer James Risen is being questioned regarding his 2006 book "State of War" which purports to use information obtained from a confidential CIA informant to detail the efforts of the United States to thwart the Iranian nuclear program. Risen did not identify ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling as his source, but he did allegedly drop several clues, enough to lead federal authorities to conclude it was Sterling. Now Sterling is in a federal courtroom in Arlington, Virginia, and Risen is at the center of the case against him.

Sure, journalists have the right to protect their sources, but that doesn't stop the government from putting him in the hot seat and taking him to task on every other detail of the his process in writing the book. Connect enough dots and eventually you'll see the picture, even if it isn't completely revealed.

Journalists often rely on confidential sources. These sources risk their life, liberty careers and more in order to provide crucial information they feel needs to be publicly known. If journalists cannot guarantee they will protect those sources, go to whatever lengths necessary to keep their identity secret, those sources will simply dry up.

Integrity. If you're a writer, especially a journalist, you need to understand it and employ it with every word you write.

The defense has proposed calling an American University journalism professor and former CNN reporter, Mark Feldstein, to testify that authors sometimes use writing techniques to disguise their sources, particularly through use of a third-party omniscient narrative style that describes events the author did not witness directly. Brinkema has not ruled on that motion.

Prosecutors also want Risen to vouch for the accuracy of a book proposal the government obtained from Simon & Schuster, Risen's publisher. It emerged at the hearing that the proposal includes the line: "CIA officers involved have come to the author to discuss the case."

Brinkema noted that line could cut both ways: it tends to reinforce the notion that Sterling could have been a source, but it also suggests Risen had multiple sources so Sterling would not be the only logical possibility.

Kurtzberg indicated that Risen's testimony about the book proposal is likely to disappoint prosecutors because he can't say for sure that the book proposal is precisely what he wrote.

"The thing he cannot say is this is an identical copy versus, or as opposed to, being tweaked or changed by his editors," Kurtzberg said. He said Risen didn't keep a copy of what he submitted to the publisher so has nothing to compare it to.

Click here to read more about the case.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Not Every Writer Is A Journalist

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states simply that one cannot observe something without changing it.

Every good journalist understands this and keeps it in the back of their mind as they do their best to objectively portray events happening around them without influencing those events at the same time.

I worked as a journalist for more than a decade and I know the feeling. It's tricky, at best, and damn near impossible at worst. A politician sees you and alters the tone of his speech; a firefighter knows you're listening and decides not to talk about some crucial detail about the cause of the fire for fear his words might come back to haunt him later; police refuse to divulge details of a crime to you for fear of spooking a suspect, even though those details might prompt a witness to come forward.

As I said, good journalists recognize this fact and try their best to handle the story properly.

Then there are "Journalists", professional bloggers or reporters who intentionally try to provoke groups or individuals to produce what they feel is a more accurate portrayal of events. This usually ends-up being labeled as "gotcha journalism" which discredits the entire industry.

You will see examples of this in stunts concocted by "journalist" James O'Keefe. He feels it is his duty as a "journalist" to trick people into saying things which prove the points he is trying to make about them. No matter that a true journalists job is to simply tell an objective story about what is taking place.

The same can be said for a number of other professional writers who pass themselves off as journalists but are really nothing more than story-tellers, interested only in their own point of view and proving it.

Patrick Howley, assistant editor at the conservative magazine based in Arlington, Va., wrote in a blog post that he was one of a “select few” protesters willing to storm the entrance to the museum and that he “may have been the only one” who made it inside.

Some supporters of the protesters criticized Howley, branding him an “agent provocateur” who tried to discredit the movement by inciting violence.

Howley’s account of the matter was altered after it was initially posted online Saturday evening. In his original post, he wrote that he had infiltrated the protesters “in order to mock and undermine (them) in the pages of The American Spectator.”

The post that appeared online Monday did not include that phrase, with Howley writing instead that he had participated in the demonstration “for journalistic purposes.”

Howley could not be reached Monday, and his editors did not return messages seeking comment.

To read more about Howley's "journalism" click here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Digital Age: Better Or Worse For Writers?

The hot topic this year at the Frankfurt Book Fair will be the impact of the digital age on writers. While some writers are finding the atmosphere is more conducive to getting published, other writers are finding themselves on the defensive against unscrupulous users who are freely trading their protected work.

This is an interesting conversation with two clearly opposite sides to the same coin. On the one hand, it is now easier than ever to get your work published and promoted to a wide audience via any number of ebook publishers. This proliferation of digital literary work means more opportunities for writers.

For published writers, people downloading and sharing their electronic works is both good news and bad news, especially if they are not getting a slice of proceeds. Prolific horror writer Stephen king has made no secret of his dislike of used book retailers because, as he points out, every time a book is sold the writer should get their fair share.

It is clear there is more work which could be done to protect published authors from losing out on revenue, but it is certainly advantageous for them to protect the electronic publishing houses which make it possible for more writers than ever before to control their own destinies.

What are your thoughts? Leave me a comment.

Buying and selling of rights to works has soared by 30 percent in the last seven years, Frankfurt Book Fair Director Juergen Boos said.

"Rights trading has become broader and has become a trade with companies, with people, agents who we did not (even) know in recent years," he told reporters.

"Suddenly there are lots of people with whom one has to talk."

He highlighted Cornelia Funke, one of Germany's best-known children's authors, whose book "Reckless" was written with a scriptwriter alongside from the start.

"A book contract for us is 10 pages at the most. In the film industry they are thousands of pages because everything must be covered," Boos said of the practical challenges.


Click here to read more about the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Yet Another Over-Paid Studio And Under-Paid Writer

So, you wanna write for television huh? Hope you don't expect to get rich doing it.

If you're like me (and a bunch of other Starved Writers) you learned long ago that you would like toil in obscurely for quite some time before you ever (IF ever) make it big. Or simply make enough to pay your bills. You probably dream of the day you score a decent paying gig, maybe a magazine article, an award winning short story or--gasp!-a television script somebody actually wants to buy.

Well, don't plan on getting rich doing the latter.

The big news lately has been FOX studios pursuit in cutting costs for the billion-dollar-making show, "The Simpsons." The voice actors took a 30 percent cut in pay and even the producers took a cut in pay to make FOX happy and keep the show on the air. The only folks who didn't take a pay cut were the writers. This is because they already receive the minimum Writers Guild of America scale for writing a script for a 30-minute show: about $22,000.

It's interesting to note that while the voices are great and the art is so-so, the entire franchise, from "Don't hove a cow, man" to "D'Oh!" is based entirely on the work of writers. Without the writers there would be no show at all. It was started by a writer and has been kept fresh, funny and profitable by writers, but once again, they are given short shrift.

And let's not forget, aside from Conan O'Brien, how many writers of The Simpsons have become household names?

So, if you're looking to make it big in Hollywood, and think television script writing is your ticket to fame and fortune, you should perhaps think again.


...for writing the story and first draft for an episode of less than 30 minutes, the writer would have been paid around $23, 358 for the script. So whilst the actors will be paid $300,000 for reading a joke, the person who wrote the joke will receive less than a tenth of that.

Just to clarify, this is in no way a dig at Harry Shearer or any of the other voice actors on the show. I think the protest at the salary cuts is entirely justified and that Harry Shearer’s request to exchange a huge cutback in wages for a small profit share was an excellent suggestion, albeit not one that I’d ever expect Fox to accept.

It’s already known that Fox outsource their animation to a studio in South Korea in order to save money, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that they pay low rates to their writers as well. But if it’s possible to justify huge voice actor salaries based on the show’s success and profit, how defensible is it for the same show to pay writers the absolute bare minimum rate allowed by their union?

Click here to read more about the experience of "The Simpsons" writer Ben Joseph.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Is American Literature Dead Or Just Dying?

Remarks were made recently by writing critic Alexander Nazaryan that Americans have not earned a Nobel Prize in literature since 1993 because they simply don't deserve it.

True enough.

Toni Morrison was the last American writer to be honored by the Nobel Literature Committee and she definitely deserved it. Her writing was accessible and approachable by a multitude of people, regardless of their race, creed or nation of origin. In my opinion it was her accessibility which brought her to the attention of Nobel.

More Americans would be recognized for their work if they could craft stories which didn't dwell too long on strictly American themes. Of course, doing this would be tantamount to cheating.

Writers should not write what they think will earn them rewards (or awards) but rather what speaks to their heart. If we write with a conscious attempt to win over a particular audience we are more likely to be dishonest to ourselves, and ultimately to those readers we hope to please.

Are American writers too introspective and less accessible to the international community? Perhaps. But then again, that is to their credit because they write as they should. If someone wanders into an American book and finds the international community represented I think they might be slightly disappointed. After all, they are reading American literature for a reason, a defined perspective, not a world class flavor.

There are plenty of other writers who produce that sort of thing. Just ask Nobel.
RAZ: So what is wrong, in your view, with American writers right now?

NAZARYAN: We've become a nation of literary narcissists. Part of that comes out of the write-what-you-know tradition, which I think must be taught in every single MFA program. And then, don't try to assume characters who are unlike yourself. So, for example, you know, if you are a white male, write from the perspective of a white male. Don't write like William Styron did from the perspective of a slave and for which he got pilloried for, in "The Confessions of Nat Turner."

I'm not saying that's a great book. But I think David Foster Wallace, in 1997, in an essay for the New York Observer - pretty brutal takedown of an Updike novel, comes up with this term the great male narcissist, which is a writer who's purely inward-looking and just unwilling to engage with the world.

And I think today, every writer - regardless of gender or ethnicity - the majority of writers are great male narcissists. And I talk about Juvela Heery(ph) and Jonathan Safran Foer, Jonathan Franzen - I don't see big political, social engagement in their works. I see narrow concerns, not a lot of cultural criticism of the sort that, for example, John Steinbeck does in "Grapes of Wrath."

Or even, you know, John le Carre does in some of his finer spy fiction, which, to tell you the truth, is much more intelligent than what comes out of many American writers today.

Click here to read more of this interview with Nazaryan on National Public Radio.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Not All Comic Books Are A Laughing Matter

Think comic books are fictionalized stories for prepubescent boys? Then you have certainly not been to your local comic book shop lately.

In Japan you can find comic books (called Manga) on every subject under the sun. Both fiction and non-fiction; science fiction, westerns, crime, horror; every genre is well represented.

The same is true for the U.S. comic book market though it is not so widely known. You could right now buy comic books on a variety of topics, for both young and old; men and women; on just about every subject, from fiction to non-fiction.

The comic book is among our most cherished literary forms. It combines both writing and art to weave a story which inspires imagination through its story-telling and its images. It recalls a time when life was simpler and when more was left to the imagination than today's big budget movies allow. With a comic book your mind has to fill in the blanks between the panels. A truly unique experience.


Cameron Cooke, 28, of Kansas City, Mo., writes comic books for Bluewater Productions. He has pages on Facebook and www.kansascitycomics.com under CW Cooke, the name he writes under. This conversation took place at Pop Culture Comix in Overland Park, Kan., www.popculturecomix.com.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Q: On this rack are celebrity biography comic books you've written - about Howard Stern, Martha Stewart, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Conan O'Brien, Prince William and Kate Middleton, the cast of "Glee," Vincent Price and others. When did this genre of comics emerge?

A: In 2008, during the presidential campaign. A couple of different companies put out Barack Obama comics, John McCain comics and Sarah Palin comics and a Joe Biden comic. Bluewater Productions saw the nonfiction comics were popular and decided to stick with it. I've been writing in that niche for them ever since.

Click here to read more of this interview with non-fiction comic writer Cameron Cooke.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

E-book Authors Get 70% of Revenue With New Service

Perseus Books Group is giving literary agencies a chance to stand up against e-book publishing agencies. Perseus is offering to only take a 30 percent cut of revenue, leaving the author with 70 percent of profits from their books. Many publishers keep 75 percent of profits and leave the author with only a fourth of the revenue off of their own books.

The company has already taken off with more than 12 agencies close to signing on with them. The rates Perseus offers are almost too good. Their rates are bound to make the e-book market even more competitive.

In recent months, several major literary agencies have added e-book publishing services for their clients—the largest so far being Trident Media Group, which announced Trident E-Book Operations just last week. Now Perseus Books Group is launching Argo Navis Author Services, which will help literary agencies jump on the bandwagon and offer those e-book publishing services to their authors.

Literary agencies Janklow & Nesbit and Curtis Brown are the first agencies to sign up to offer Perseus’s new service to their clients, the New York Times reports, with “more than a dozen other agencies” also close to signing on. One of those others is ICM, Publishers Lunch reports. The agencies aren’t required to sign exclusive agreements with Perseus.

Click here to read more about Perseus Books Group.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How To Tell Your Own Story Without Boring Others

Everyone has a story they feel needs to be told. Many people who are writing for the first time want to tell a personal story through a memoir. How different could writing down a story you've told before and lived be, right?

Writing a memoir is a difficult kind of writing, because you have to be able to please your reader often more than you have to please yourself. Writing a memoir can be a challenge because you are telling a personal story, but you have to make sure you give readers a reason to care.

Putting an event that changed your life can be a challenge, but when done right, it can be a very powerful story. Memoirs that are successful are written to show the reader rather than tell. The only way any piece of writing can be successful is by keeping the reader engaged. With memoirs being so personal, keeping readers entertained is the tricky goal.

Think about some of the more popular recent memoirs: "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris; "Tuesdays with Morrie : an old man, a young man, and life's greatest lesson" by Mitch Albom; "My Life" by Bill Clinton; "Reading Lolita in Tehran : a memoir in books" by Azar Nafisi.

What made them successful? These stories are indeed personal, universal, and in some way illuminating. They can be humorous, revealing, or profound. The one thing they have in common is that they are good reads.

Kevin, who taught an online class on memoir/personal story writing is amazed at the number of people who approach him with "ideas" for a book about themselves. Writing about yourself, though, isn't as simple as telling your story to a few friends over a bottle of wine.

To read tips and more about how to successfully write a memoir, click here.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Give Your Readers What They Want

Writing has become a more competitive market than ever since anyone can be a published author by blogging. The key is to give your readers what they want when they want it. Otherwise, it is easy for your writing to get lost amongst the millions of authors also trying to get readers to stick around.

Regardless if you're writing is news or interest oriented, readers won't continue to buy what you're offering unless you tend to the four basic concepts this article mentions.

Keeping the attention of a reader is important, especially if the reader is expected to convert. There are four critical elements to getting and holding attention with copy: usefulness, conciseness, urgency, and a promise kept.

Usefulness: What Does a Reader Want?

People do not tend to read texts or watch videos without a reason. You need to give them that reason again and again. This article starts with the main reason: keeping the attention of a reader, and it hits that point again and again. You need to do the same thing with your writing by discovering what the reader wants to hear about and coming back to that point.


Read the rest of the Art of Blog article by clicking here.