R.I.P. Writer J.G. Ballard, 78

April 19, 2009

There are writers who come along, see what others have done, and then do things differently.

And then there are writers who come along, don’t care what’s been done before, and go ahead and do what they want to do.

J.G. Ballard was the latter kind of writer.

I’ll leave it to others to do the long analyses.

I just want to focus on one point that I think many people don’t know.

Ballard pioneered a form of writing he called “condensed novels.”

A necessary ambivalence pervades these texts that makes them easier to quote than to paraphrase. The increasing compression of Ballard’s prose through the 1960s renders it even more resistant to summary, as it moved closer to the condition of the advertisement (“What can Saul Bellow and John Updike do that J. Walter Thompson, the world’s largest advertising agency and its greatest producer of fiction, can’t do better?”).

To this end Ballard developed the form of the “condensed novel.” As Pringle and James Goddard describe them, “the narratives are stripped of surplus verbiage and compounded until they are only skeletal representations of what they might otherwise have been.” The linear progress of the minimal narrative that remains is further broken by a division into separately headed paragraphs; the temporal and spatial relations between fragments are variant. As did the cut-ups, Ballard’s narrational style derives from the collage techniques of the surrealists: “The techniques of surrealism have a particular relevance at this moment, when the fictional elements in the world around us are multiplying to the point where it is almost impossible to distinguish between the ‘real’ and the ‘false’ – the terms no longer have any meaning.”

In 1958 Ballard created an entire novel designed to go on billboards.

Emphasis added by me.

All of the writers on Twitter squeezing fiction into that form are actually following in the invisible footsteps of Ballard.

Know your history. Say a prayer for the man even — especially — if you didn’t know.


Writer David Hewson On Publishing’s Future

April 19, 2009

Writer David Hewson: Parting thoughts: the state of publishing

I’m not qualified to offer advice to publishers or big book companies even if I had something useful to say. So let me focus on what I know and love: writing. Authors are, I think, on the brink of a new and exciting age. We will no longer be confined by the schedules and norms of the print industry. Those literary forms that once seemed so hard to get published – novellas and short stories – suddenly make sense because they match the instant release of digital. Backlists become resources to be revived, not lost titles that never again see the light of day. And there will, I’m sure, be new types of media and opportunities created in the years to come too.

Emphasis added by me.

There’s much more there. I extracted, of course, the bit that agrees with my own view of things.

Hewson sees independent bookstores as helping to keep publishing — read, I think, as printed books — alive. I don’t think so. Not if they don’t become independent eBookstores too.


Love Your Copyeditor

April 18, 2009

Writer Nick Bellardes has published a picture of his copyedited manuscript for a book coming out later this year.

What’s in RED is the work of the copyeditor.

Now go look.

I’ve railed about the dying dinosaurs of print and other such things, but I will never, ever say anything bad about copyeditors (though I almost did).

A copyeditor will turn the kind of stream-of-madness dreck I write here into something sensible (well, OK, my stream-of-madness fictionthis stuff is really beyond help!).

Every writer needs a copyeditor. Amateurs don’t see the need.

As I was finishing this post, Nick tweeted me: “I hope you say that’s the blood of the saints on those pages …”

Yes. Copyeditors are saints! Aptly put.


Another eBook Sleeper Awakens

April 18, 2009

Apple Needs to Sell eBooks.

So, what I think is that there’s a need for another party (Apple) to step in and take control over the state of e-book affairs. Right now its like the wild wild west. There’s tons of different stores selling almost 10 different e-book formats. There’s no real standard for pricing, there’s no expectations for customer purchase experience and there’s no rules for what a reader should be able to do. Amazon is THE ONLY player who has the entire thing down to a science, but they’re only one experience and a costly one at that.

People hear the term “eBooks” and they know they exist.

But it’s not until their money is on the line that they devote the time to researching what they’ve gotten — or will be getting — into.

And, like Brandon above, the initial and lasting impression is that the entire eBook landscape is screwed-up, broken, and almost more trouble than it’s worth.

I’ve raged over and over for Apple to do eBooks.

I still think, deep down, Apple does have a plan. And the reason why this plan has not come to pass is because, Apple being Apple, they don’t intend to do a half-assed job of it. Doing eBooks correctly would also involve adding code to their existing applications. Maybe even OS X itself.

And right now, Apple is making a ton of money with the iPhone, is busy thinking up new APIs and things to add to it to fend off the Palm Pre, and also working on that chimerical Apple Tablet.

It’s bloody All Hands On Deck over there.

Plus add in whatever distractions Steve Jobs’ health create.

I am, however, convinced that Apple could enter eBooks and, despite all the current players, dominate it.

I have my own plan for how Apple could do that.

I hope Apple has one of its own too.


Quote Of The Day

April 17, 2009

Over at The Militant Writer, Mary Walters has written a screed that’s attracted lots of attention.

One Comment I just had to pull a bit from to run here:

The first thing that needs to be understood is that there is no formula for making a book successful. Anybody who tells you that “if my publisher just did a little more X and supported the efforts with some Y my book would be a bestseller” is full of shit.

If such a formula existed, it would be done over and over and publishing would be a cash rich industry and we’d all hang around the pool and be very fashionable.

That’s from Benjamin LeRoy, Publisher of Bleak House Books. Bleak House has published Victor Gischler, Anthony Neil Smith, Nathan Singer, and others. With those writers, if he hasn’t figured out The Formula, I doubt anyone else will.

(If anyone from Bleak House reads this … I’m still tapping my foot, waiting for your stuff in eBook form.)


Behind The Scenes Of A Writer

April 17, 2009

Writer Ben Mezrich has written some killer books. See this and this.

All anybody usually sees of a writer is the published work. Not what happened before all that.

Ben gave everyone a glimpse of “before all that” today on Twitter:


Google BS: People Are Waking Up

April 17, 2009

Legally Speaking: The Dead Souls of the Google Booksearch Settlement

This column argues that the proposed settlement of this lawsuit is a privately negotiated compulsory license primarily designed to monetize millions of orphan works.

That sounds awfully familiar. Let me see …

Is Another Suit Against Google Book Search Coming?

Google has arbitrarily stepped in as an uninvited third-party to put “in print” thousands (perhaps millions) of books that have been out-of-print.

Yeah.


Microsoft To Re-Enter eBooks?

April 17, 2009

That’s what Mediabistro’s Mobile Content Today thinks: Speculation: Will Microsoft’s ZuneHD Include an eBook Reader?

There’s a lot of interesting speculation about the rumored Microsoft ZuneHD which resembles an iPod touch with a large multi-touch touch screen. One speculation we have not seen about it so far, however, is whether or not it will be an ebook reader to compete with the Kindle or, at least, the Kindle iPhone app. Why would I think it might be an ebook reader if no one else does? A friend recently pointed out (tweeted) that the old Microsoft Reader, and ebook app nearly a decade old now seems to be in a revival phase.

It looks like Microsoft is now offering a new eBook creation tool too. [Update: I’ve been informed in Comments that this tool has been around, is not new, and is in fact six years old.] I’m pretty sure Microsoft used to tell people to go get OverDrive’s ReaderWorks to create LIT eBooks.

It also seems Microsoft is now offering a choice of DRM flavors too.

Kirk Biglione’s reaction:

It’s Zune HD. Will probably have a reader built in. Zune is NOT the future of ebooks (or anything else).

Ouch!

Microsoft would certainly have to do things differently to re-enter the eBook game.

1) Dump the Passport activation of MS Reader
2) Develop versions of MS Reader for iPhone OS and Palm’s webOS
3) Build eBook ordering directly into MS Reader
4) Really lean on publishers to lower their prices
5) Update the MS Word LIT-creation tool (Word 2003? Say what?)

Yes, LIT is very pretty. But no, it’s not US$17.71 worth of pretty!

If Microsoft really does re-enter eBooks with the Zune HD, it’d highlight another misstep of Sony — which never included its Sony eBook reading software in the PlayStation Portable.


Rough Notes On Punking eBooks

April 15, 2009

The problem: There is no way for an individual independent writer to be published in eBook format for sale.

(Note: I do not count Amazon’s Kindle Store and its confiscatory ass-backwards money split; its proprietary eBook lock-in file format is also detrimental to the interests of all writers.)

1) WordPress-like easy blogging system with an eBook eCommerce component
– WordPress.COM does not have this
– WordPress.ORG has a plug in, but:
— not every writer wants to devote time to webmastery
— personally, I still recall what happened to Gear Diary — (I’m not the only one!)

2) There are no indie eBookstores
– indie: not owned by Amazon, Apple, Google, Sony, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Microsoft or other behemoth
– indie eBookstore would carry titles current behemoth eStores do not
— print indie bookstores carry titles not found at B&N/Borders
— comic book stores carry fanzines

3) Apple and Amazon cannot be entrusted with freedom of expression
– Sony probably can’t be entrusted either

4) Am not attracted to sites such as Lulu, Smashwords, et al
– perception of sludge pile (worse than slush pile)

5) FictionWise, others, won’t deal with single writer
– combination of writers banding under a shell company label?
— Chaplin, Pickford, Fairbanks, Griffith United Artists model

6) Universal eBook Catalog
– list every eBook available
– become the discovery source
– break the “Let’s look it up on Amazon” cycle
– must be an entity in itself to preserve freedom of expression
— I still think The Pirate Bay should do this

7) No ePub tools for writers
– Adobe InDesign expensive and complex
— complexity not needed for all-text
— writers don’t do design
– software must be blog-easy
— multiple eBook eejit-proof templates like Apple’s Pages

I no longer believe that eBooks will enter the mainstream via the mainstream.

I now believe in the analogy to punk music in yesterday’s post.

What needs to happen:

ONE eBook gains a Word of Mouth (WOM) reputation
(Note: there are over 16 million eBook devices now [iPhone/Touch])
– genuine word of mouth or PR-assisted?
— PR-assisted cannot move something that’s shit
— only genuine WOM matters
— WOM moved The Fountainhead in 1940s

Unknown contributing(?) factor: Blog Book Tours

An eBook with WOM cachet and must-read-ness that’s available only as an eBook (in a format that cannot be printed out) could help push the needle from print books to eBooks

WOM must be of such scale to achieve Internet escape velocity
– must enter mainstream culture, not be confined to Internet Culture

That eBook must not compromise by going into print

That eBook must be dedicated to the Cause of eBooks

Given possibility of piracy, eBook should not be seen as money-maker

Rough notes. But I think eBooks now have to grow from the bottom-up, not be dispensed top-down from the self-appointed Publishing Gods of New York City’s Mt. Olympus.

eBooks are the future and are too important to be left up to publishers.

We live the precedent: The Internet grows from the bottom-up.


Things Only The Future Can Know

April 15, 2009

I plop this in here as being eBook-related in that it’s of interest to writers.

I left a Comment on Warren Ellis’s blog last night and had what I believed was an original thought: that the future is not only a point in time but a culture. Someone else must have made that point too somewhere and I suppose it just happened to rise to the top of my wee brain at that moment.

What brought on that thought was the video below. Before you play it, I want you to think about how you would explain it to someone who has never experienced Internet Culture. I contend that it can’t be done. And because of that, I also contend that it’s not possible for us now to project how fictional human beings in an extrapolated future will be affected by their technologically-advanced (or, really, technologically-different) surroundings. All of that is “air” to them. We don’t think about the air we breathe. Same with those future people.

Now the video:

Watch We Didnt Start the Flame War on CollegeHumor

OK. Now consider this piece that someone made me aware of on Twitter today: The Tweets Of Roland Hedley

These are artifacts of the future.

And there’s not a single writer out there who ever imagined these in any story ever written.