Friday, September 30, 2011

What Do You Know?

My thinking on this post started way back in August, when Carrie Butler shared a comment made to her by an acquaintance. He told her, “You can’t write romance, you’ve never been in love.”

There’s a thread on Absolute Write called ‘Stupid things non-writers say.” This statement belongs there (assuming the guy is a non-writer, that is).

What Carrie’s ‘friend’ was saying was write what you know. Surely, you’re all familiar with that phrase. ‘Write what you know’ is one of those ‘rules’ that gets thrown around a lot, and it’s one that seems to cause a lot of confusion for new writers. If we follow the rule literally, what, indeed, would we write about? Only astronauts could write space travel stories, for example, and where would all those books about wizarding schools and dragon riding come from? No where. We wouldn’t have them.

When I first started working on this post so many weeks ago, I started to make a list of things I ‘knew’. It made me depressed.

Let’s see. I had a normal (for the time) childhood in a Long Island suburb. I went to college and drank a lot, passed with around a B+ average. I worked for a series of non-profit organizations in the environmental education field. Got married, had two kids. Started my own business. Failed at my own business. Buried both parents. Had two different occasions where I worked as a security guard when finances were extremely tight (and might be looking at a third stint in that field). I’ve been to Canada, and as far west as Ohio and as far south as the US Virgin Islands. That’s about it.

On the face of it, I might say, “well, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot there, does there?” I haven’t written a number one song or a bestselling book. I haven’t discovered a cure for cancer or saved a life in an heroic manner. I’m not sure if I’ve ‘changed lives for the better.’ There was a time when I was younger where I thought, ‘If someone made a movie of my life, my character would be a supporting role.’ All the really interesting stuff always seemed to happen to my friends. I had a good time, but other people always seemed to be in the starring role.

But as I thought about it, and as I wrote my ‘Ten Things’ post from Monday, I realized that I actually knew a hell of a lot more than I was giving myself credit for, and I bet you do, too. I know what it’s like to be in love (and to have crushes/infatuations, too). I’ve experienced the overwhelming feeling that comes with holding my brand-new baby in my arms, along with the frightening ‘now what?’ moment when the first baby comes home from the hospital. I’ve mourned the loss of my parents and one of my best friends, and sweated through tough financial times. These experiences are grist for the mill, to use a rather tired expression (fitting—I’m quite tired as I finish this up, and have to be up and on the road early in the morning).

The important thing is not to use them exactly as they happened—no one really wants to read those stories, after all—but to take the feelings that went with them, and transpose them onto other, more interesting situations. Jeff King, of Author’s Union, put it best in his response to Carrie’s post. “Writing," he stated, "is what we want, what we know, and what we dream all wrapped in one.” It’s a brilliant statement that sums things up very well. We have experiences. We know things. We know more than we think. Take a look at what you’ve done, and see what you know. I suspect you’ll find there’s more there than you thought. Tap into it. Use it. And have a nice weekend.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ten Things about....Me?

Thanks to Lisa L. Regan for tagging me in this ‘Ten Things’ thing going around. You’ve done me a solid, Lisa: now I don’t have to scramble for a Monday topic, and, given my weekend, that’s a blessing. It also fits rather well with what I’m planning for Friday (and have been planning for a while, just haven’t finished). This has been an exhausting weekend that has seen me helping haul giant pumpkins around as part of Cooperstown’s annual Pumpkinfest. I’m tired, sore and sunburned, and had very little time to think over the weekend.

So, ten things you don’t know about me, in no particular order of importance:

1. Bobby Orr is my all-time favorite hockey player. He’s the reason I’m a Bruins fan, and the reason I played defense (though no one ever made a highlight film of me).

2. My favorite season is whatever season it is when you ask me that question.

3. My mustache has been trimmed, but never shaved. Ever.

4. I’ve been footed by a Great Horned owl and bitten by a Bobcat.

5. Between 1981 and 1992 I saw the Grateful Dead more than 30 times in concert, though I never dropped out of life and went ‘on tour’, earning a living by selling tie-dyed t-shirts like some people.

6. As a kid I loved Bozo the Clown, yet I was afraid of clowns. Bozo came to a Playworld store (chain long since defunct) when I was young; I lurked and looked at him from around a corner or from a very long way away, but didn’t go to meet him.

7. Two years ago, I paddled a giant pumpkin in Otsego Lake as part of the Cooperstown Pumpkinfest. It’s hell on the knees, but a lot of fun (no paddling this year, sadly). That’s me on the left side. I didn’t get to paddle this year, but I did get to help launch pumpkins.

8. Six days before my wedding, I was assaulted at the Lennox Street subway station in New York City. A random guy hit me upside the head with a bottle. I had occasional, mild dizzy spells for over a week. After I went back to work (3 weeks later), it took me probably more than a month before I had the courage to use that subway station again.

9. I used to live here. Didn't own it, just used to live there.

10. Whenever I eat bacon and eggs, I have to have a glass of orange juice.

And there you have it. Let’s see, I’m supposed to tag a couple of people, so let’s hit Jennifer at the Writing Cocoon, and Donna K. Weaver at Weaving a Tale or Two, and Robin, at Bends in the Writer's Road—I don’t recall seeing this particular tag circulate on either of your blogs before. And don't feel pressured: if you don't want to do this, don't! See you on Friday, when my muscles are less sore and I’ve got something else for you.

Friday, September 23, 2011

NaNo Yes, or NaNo No?

The leaves in upstate New York are turning, the kids are back in school, and we’ve had our first frost. That can only mean one thing: NaNoWriMo is just around the corner.

I first heard about NaNo two years ago. Maybe it was three. At the time I was deep, deep, deep into World of Warcraft, and part of my morning routine involved cruising through assorted WoW blogs. One blogger frequently referenced NaNo, regularly using it as an excuse for her less-than-consistent blogging. “Working on my NaNo” she’d say, or “my NaNoWriMo is coming along”, or “My NaNo is being a total bitch”. I had no idea what it was—she never said what NaNo was, and didn’t link to their site. When I finally got curious enough to look it up and found out what it was, I thought it was interesting, but it was already too late in the month to really make a good effort and I skipped it.

Fast forward a year (or maybe it was two): I was still into WoW, still checking out the blogs, but now I had also actually started writing stuff. I had two novels that I had taken stabs at (and by ‘stab’, I mean jabbed with a toothpick; these were not really serious efforts), and a couple of short stories under my belt, including one that I (foolishly) sent to the Tampa Review for a contest. This time, when that particular blogger referenced NaNo, I knew what she meant. “Oh, yeah, I should do that,” I said, but then I forgot to sign up. When I finally did sign up, it was four or five days into November.

I’ve since seen some people on Absolute Write and blogs take swipes at NaNo, but I’m convinced it was good for me. One of the biggest problems I had as a writer up to that point was with the self-critic, the internal editor, the nagging little voice that says, “Fix that,” or “I think you need a comma there. No, wait, you don’t. Hang on, you do.” You know that voice. It’s good to have, but sometimes it just keeps you from actually doing anything, it locks you into paralysis by analysis. The inner editor can also screw you up by telling you your story isn’t good enough. Blah.

But NaNo, with its pressure to crank out 50,000 words in a month (a mere 1666.6666667 words per day, if you write every day) curtails the inner editor/critic. If your inner-editor stops you at the end of every sentence to have a Lincoln-Douglas debate over every adjective, comma and gerund, it will be almost impossible to get those 1600+ words/day on paper, and the magical NaNo word counter will tell you after your first day that you now need to average 1851.7922 words per day to make the goal, and on and on, until you find yourself staring at 3000 or 5000 words per day to finish. Yikes.

So, I threw off the shackles of the inner editor and went to work, and it was liberating. I didn’t completely stop editing, of course; there were plenty of times I stopped and said, “That’s not right, I need to structure that better,” or “Wait, he wouldn’t really say THAT, would he?” and the dreadful, “Does this make any sense at all? I don’t think so,” but it wasn’t paralyzing, and, if I found myself really stuck at something, be it a plot point or a sentence that I couldn’t get just exactly right, I did something that never seemed possible before: I wrote out of order. My NaNo evolved like a patchwork quilt, with chapter 20 being written before chapter 5, followed by chapter 9 and then, finally, five. It was a terrific experience for me, and, I’m convinced, essential to me as a writer in getting my off my ass (so to speak) and in the chair.

So, for this year, NaNo yes, or NaNo no? I’m honestly not sure yet. I don’t think I need to NaNo this year; last year’s participating broke me through the bonds that stopped me from writing. I’m also hoping to be involved in beta-fueled rewrites on Parallel Lives, and I have no idea how time-consuming or brain-draining that’s going to be. I also have a couple of ideas that are partly written out (both somewhere around the 10K words mark; one of them feels like it’s going to be awfully big, too) that I’d like to get back to. And then there’s last year’s NaNo, which I dismissed as drivel, a 52K story with an unhappy ending. I took it out and put it in proper order last April while Parallel Lives was resting, and I might like to go back and revisit it. The writing is not great (and I guess that the biggest criticism of NaNo is that it encourages sloppy writing), but the story wants to be looked at again. I might be too busy to really give NaNo the attention it deserves. So, NaNo No.

On the other hand (and you just knew there would be an ‘other hand’, didn’t you?) I do have a couple of fresh ideas squirming around in my brain. What better way to bring them fully to life than in the frenzy of NaNo? Add to that that I’ve been living with Parallel Lives so long, it needs to get out of my hair, and that revision is a different beast than pure brain-dumping that NaNo involved for me last year. It may be time to really exercise that part of my brain once more. So, NaNo Yes.

Or, maybe not. I’ve got more than a month to make up my mind, though time goes faster the older we get. Just before the fall colors reach their peak, we’ll get the heavy rain and windstorm to blow them off the trees, and then we’ll get the first snowfall, and then we’ll have Halloween, and then I’ll stare at the NaNo page and debate: NaNo yes, or NaNo no?

And what about you? Have you done NaNoWriMo in the past? Did it help, or hurt? And will you do it again? NaNo Yes, or NaNo No?

Have a great weekend, all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Horse Latitudes

In elementary school we saw a film about a man on a boat. For the longest time I couldn’t remember anything about the film except the guy was stuck in the horse latitudes, and there was a wacky animated sequence where he envisioned the world as a donut (wacky animated sequences were popular at the time—remember that bizarre scene in Santa Claus is Coming to Town where Jessica apparently drops acid in the town square? How about the boat ride in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?). That was about all I could remember of the film, except that I was also pretty sure the name of the film was The Horse Latitudes.

Turns out I was right. The Horse Latitudes was a 1975 TV film about a real-life guy--Phillip Stockton--who entered a race against 8 other men, each attempting to become the first to circumnavigate the globe in a single-person craft. Stockton decided to cheat: he plunked himself in the middle of the Horse Latitudes and sent fictional reports back of passing The Cape of this and the Straits of that, apparently inspiring Rosie Ruiz to try the same approach in the Boston Marathon in 1980. I’m not sure why they showed us this film; I don’t remember the context at all, unless it was to warn us of the dangers of taking shortcuts and cheating. Stockton’s boat was found drifting in the ocean; he wasn’t. He presumably went mad and decided to take a long swim.

What does this have to do with anything? I’m stuck in the Horse Latitudes, and I guess I’m not alone. Lisa Regan is having a hard time. Jennifer is having a hard time. All over Absolute Write, writers are having a hard time. Lisa did an interview with her book, and found it to be a rather argumentative sort. If I interviewed mine, what would it tell me? By Friday last week, I was almost ready to tell IT, “Fuck off.” I was thinking. “Maybe I should just leave it as is, finish tightening up through the end, and ship it out to some readers. Let them tell me what’s wrong. Or even IF it’s wrong.”

That would be the easy way out: turn it over to someone else and see if maybe that will help. Maybe there’s nothing wrong; maybe it’s just my inner critic getting overly-nitpicky, or the doubter trying to sabotage what is perfectly fine. Wow, I’m having doubts about my doubts! There’s a reason I’m stuck, and it’s because there’s something that isn’t just exactly right. And so I circle around and around the problem, like hawks riding a thermal, and I hope to hell I get it just exactly right soon, because I’m getting tired of it, and the dog gets nervous when I start shouting to the empty room.

Anyway, that’s where we all seem to be right now. Stuck in a becalmed sea, except that there is nothing calming about it. In that vein, here's an lovely piece of 'music' that's rather appropriate (WARNING: Not for the squeamish. Also, It takes about ten seconds to become audible: DON'T turn it up!):

But I’m trying to be positive. I’ve been working steadily, because I believe in my story, and because I’m still hoping I can shop it to agents by the end of the year. I feel like some progress is being made, though I still haven’t had one of those glorious Eureka! moments in ages, where it all just comes together so beautifully. Maybe today. Let’s hope so. And so, in an effort to be positive, here's a much more pleasant-sounding song of the sea. Have a good week.

Man, those boys could sing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Scene Setting: Time Frame

This is not a shameless plug for Time Frame, the online publication (Oops, maybe it was). No, this is about the setting of a story, and whether or not you should root your story in a particular point int time.

Questions come up all the time on AW about cultural references (in fact, one fortuitously popped up last night after I had started writing this). “Should I refer to Lady Gaga?” they ask. “Is it okay to have my characters Google something, or change their Facebook status?” “Can I mention President Obama?” Most of the time, the question is being asked because the writer is afraid of being sued for defamation or copyright infringement. In general, the answer is the same: Yes, you can mention people, products and companies by name, bu-u-u-u-t…

‘Bu-u-u-u-t’ is generally followed by something along the lines of ‘you shouldn’t put pop culture references in your book.’ Why? Because it will date your work, and the last thing you want is to put a time stamp on your writing, unless a) you’re writing historical fiction, in which case you should stamp away, or b) it's integral to the story, like your book is about US Marines landing on Okinawa. If it's neither a or b, they say, stay away from anything that will fix your story in time. The fear is that people who don't understand the reference will be turned off by it, and that, by rooting it in such a way, your book will not be read and dissected by English students 100 years from now.

I understand this, but I have to wonder if the concern is overrated.

One of the authors I really enjoyed growing up was S.E. Hinton, especially the books The Outsiders, and That Was Then, This is Now. Both books were published when I was very young; by the time I read them, their ‘age’--the years of teenage gangs, and the drug/hippie culture that was so important—had passed by. Granted, they weren’t totally full of pop culture, but they dealt with a world that was far different from the east coast, suburban community I grew up in. Teenage gangs? That was the stuff of West Side Story, not my everyday life. Drugs? At the time I first read these books, drugs were background noise, nothing more. The cultural backdrop of the books was so different from my own, yet it didn’t make a difference at all: I enjoyed them immensely, read them over and over again, and was thrilled to see them turn up on my daughter’s reading list a couple of years ago.

Perhaps this is not quite the same thing as finding a book loaded with pop references. I don’t remember Hinton’s books naming particular musical acts or songs, TV shows, or delving deep into the movies of the day, but I don’t think it would have mattered. Hinton wrote a compelling story, with believable characters. I’d like to think that’s more important than anything, and that referencing Dora the Explorer, Fonzie, “Where’s the beef?” or Burma Shave isn’t going to cause readers to run screaming from a book just because they don’t get the reference. Then again, I’ve seen plenty of people say they won’t buy a book just because it has a prologue.

All that said, I think it is possible to overdo it, but is a reference here or there overdoing it? I don't think so. The thing that most dates a story in my view is the writing itself, not what the story is about, or what it references. And remember this: All writing will become dated as language and society change.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Musing -- Charlie Brown

That about sums up how I feel today. Maybe it's just 'one of those days'; maybe it's a holdover from the rather grim anniversary that passed yesterday. But, when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. And when life gives you a rock, you use it to wind your piece of string around. Enjoy the song, enjoy the week, I'll be back on Friday in a better frame of mind.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Inspiration and Motivation

Inspiration move me brightly – Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia, Terrapin Station
MOVE IT! Or I'm going to rip your balls off, so you cannot contaminate the rest of the world! – Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, Full Metal Jacket

About a week ago someone asked on Absolute Write, ‘When you are stuck at a point in your writing(as I am right now lol) what do you do for inspiration?’ The bulk of the answers in that thread gave suggestions that focused on priming the pump, so to speak: doing things that would help generate ideas, ranging from moving to a different writing location to interviewing characters. But the original question was, after thinking about it, kind of vague. Did the poster want to know how/where to get ideas to unblock his writing? Or was he asking how to get himself in the chair now that the going was tought? In other words, was he looking for inspiration or motivation, and what is the difference? Is there a difference?
I think there is. Motivation is the overarching reason behind writing. There are as many different reasons for writing as there are people who write. Just this morning, in a nice bit of serendipity, a fresh thread on AW popped up: Why do you Write? A lot of people answered ‘Money and fame’ or words to that effect. Others described it as a form of release and escape, others as a particular form of self-expression. For me? I’m not 100% sure. I’d love to be a Famous Author and make a lot of money, sure. I suppose that’s a big part of the motivation for me, but there’s something else at work here, too. It's a less-concrete motivation. I have some stories that I want to tell, and this is how they’re expressed. I’m motivated to tell these stories.
There’s a lower-level motivation, too. This is the thing that gets me in the chair when the going gets tough, and I’ve already talked about his in an earlier post. Allow me to quote myself. From The Gambler, Part I:
I want you to read my book. I want lots of people to read my book.
A book that doesn’t get written doesn’t get published, and a book that doesn’t get published doesn’t get read.
That's motivation, right there. If I want you to read it, I've got to write it. Motivation is equal parts cattle prod and carrot-on-a-stick. It’s Gunny Hartman screaming curses in your ear, telling you that the best part of you ‘ended up as a brown stain on the mattress.’ (yecch)  But it’s also the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the reward for hard work
Inspiration is—well, I just don’t quite have the words for it. It’s the mysterious, wonderful part of the process. It’s not ‘Why do you write’, it’s ‘why do you write what you write?’ It’s what you point to when someone asks, ‘where did that come from?’
It’s hard to know where the inspiration will come from. In some cases, it’s the result of multiple things getting thrown in a crock pot and allowed to simmer all day (or for a few months, as the case may be). Instead of consulting a recipe and adding 1 cup of this, 2 teaspoons of that, and a chopped up doohickey and baking for forty-five minutes at 350 degrees, it’s throw in everything you’ve got and hope it doesn't kill anyone.
Inspiration is what makes you jump up in the middle of the night reaching for the pad and paper you keep by the bed. It’s what someone sees in you at a cocktail party when they try to talk to you, but you’re eyes are shiny and you stare off at a point in space over their shoulder, and you mutter an answer at them (if they’re lucky). Inspiration is when you find yourself hopping from foot to foot in line at the grocery store, hoping that no one starts talking to you before you can get this thing down on a piece of paper.
As different as they seem to be, inspiration and motivation often follow each other closely. Think about it: what better motivation is there than when a bolt of inspiration hits you right in the head? Inspiration hits, and you’re instantly motivated to get your backside in the chair and write. Moments like that are indeed precious.
But it works the other way, too. There have been a number of times I’ve sat down with no inspiration whatsoever, facing a story or scene that just isn’t right, unable to see how to make it better, and not at all sure that I want to spend a couple of hours banging my head against the keyboard. “I can skip it for today,” I might think, but then Gunny Hartman gets in my face. “Do you want to finish the damn story? You do? Then get your ass in that chair and start writing.” (like that, only with more cursing) Quite often, after a bit of struggling, Inspiration peeks around the door, and the problem goes away. Best of all, it shuts Gunny Hartman right up. Who can work with all that shouting?
Hope you all have a pleasant weekend.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

And Now...

...I'm happy to break the normal Monday-Friday cycle here to note that my short story, The Intruder, has been picked up and posted on Time Frame. Please take a read and (hopefully) enjoy. Comment there or here if you are so inclined. Thanks!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Monday Musing: The Annoying Little Voice

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my writing. You have to go all the way back to August 12 for anything about me and how/what/or why I write what I do. Being an egomaniac writer, this will not do. I’ll be writing a little bit more about that sort of stuff the next couple of times, unless I get distracted by something else. Since I haven’t done this in a while, it’s time for an update on my book.

Parallel Lives is like Tropical Storm Lee: stalled. I started a second (or maybe it's a third) pass-through sometime in July and was enjoying the expansion and contraction of the book, of adding to the story while the word count shrank. It’s an interesting sensation. It's been slow going, but satisfying. Until I hit the mid-point of the book, and the trouble started.

One of the problems I’ve had all along is keeping track of certain things in the story. I’ll be reading something (or writing it) and I’ll think, “Wait, didn’t he say this somewhere else?” At times, I know for a fact that the answer is ‘Yes’, and I’ll even know pretty accurately where in the book the duplicate passage is. Then it’s a matter of deciding whether he should say/do this thing here or there. Other times, it’s been a nagging feeling, and I can’t find it, can’t pinpoint it, but I know it’s there somewhere, like that really important piece of paper that’s buried under the mountains of other papers on my desk. At some point I give up and, thirty pages later, there it is!

This problem is exacerbated by the structure of the story. Parallel Lives unfolds in a present/past way, like Water for Elephants, for example. I was having trouble with some of the ‘present’ chapters. I'd be going over it, and I'd add something that seemed familiar, and then I'd find the same idea in the next chapter. In an effort to stop this without having to jump back and forth through the manuscript, I pulled all of the 'present' chapters involving the MMC and FMC into one single document and printed it out. It was great in that it made it much easier to find where I’m repeating myself, but, as I read through it, a Little Voice popped up and told me there is a problem.

I’m a big believer in the Little Voice. The Little Voice tells me I’ve typed ‘teh’ instead of ‘the’; it says ‘you’ve left the car windows open' when I hear the first boom of thunder; it says ‘you forgot to buy cat food’ (usually it says this when I’m on my way back from the store; better late than never). Generally speaking, the Little Voice is right on--it's like Hermione Granger: when it says something, you know it must be true. So when the Little Voice starts telling me that something’s not working in my novel, I listen. Unfortunately, the Little Voice isn’t saying ‘Hey, here’s an easy way to fix this.’ I’m on my own for that one.

The thing that most worries me about this is that this is the same area of the book that gave me trouble way back in February/March of last year. At that point I’d essentially written the entire novel (short, but the bones of the story were there); but the Little Voice didn’t like how the MC had his ‘big revelation.’ And it was right. I thought I’d fixed it. I finished it, was happy with it, let it sit, did a first revise, and still liked it. Now, on this next pass through, the Little Voice is back, and it makes me wonder if the entire story is flawed. That’s not a good feeling to have.

The book has sat untouched (but definitely thought about) since Thursday; I may or may not look at it today. I'm afraid to; it makes my brain itch as if the inside of my skull has been wallpapered with velour (remember velour? Does anyone wear it anymore, or has it been renamed to something else?). I’m hoping that part of the problem is with the general disruption to my routine that I’ve had in the last couple of weeks, what with road trips to look at colleges, the visit by Hurricane Irene, and other things. Writing over the summer has at times been difficult because I’m one of those sensitive types who hates writing when people are looking over my shoulder, and there’s been almost-constant disruptions. The kids go back to school tomorrow, and, while I love ‘em and they’re great kids, it will be nice to have the school routine re-established. And then I can get back to fixing the book and silencing that Little Voice. Or at least give it something else to gripe about.

In honor of back to school, here's a little ditty for the parents. See you next time.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Product Placement...In my Book?

Remember when Archie Bunker used to call out to Edith, “Edith, bring me a beer”? A moment later, Edith would come running over with a can of…‘BEER’ that looked like this:
Maybe you’re too young for that. Maybe you remember someone on TV drinking a soda in a red can with a curvy silver line snaking up the can, but no name on it? Or pulling a cigarette from a pack that looked suspiciously like Marlboro, but again without a name? (Hell, have you actually ever seen anyone smoking on TV? It sure doesn’t happen like it used to).

Product placement has a long history on TV and in the movies, but it’s become an art form unto itself over the last thirty years. In addition to being framed by ‘This show is sponsored by…’ announcements, products are deliberately and carefully paraded in front of our eyes in a not-so-subtle attempt to get us to notice – and buy – them.

Is this the future of books?

Last week, at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Ewan Morrison set off a firestorm when he declared that the demise of paper books was imminent. Furthermore, he stated that the move to all-digital books would mean the end of the professional author as we know it. Not surprisingly, this has stirred up quite a bit of controversy and dissenting opinion. I certainly hope he’s wrong, but that’s not what I’m writing about today.

E-books are certainly taking up an ever-larger share of the market. This is good news for readers who have embraced e-books, and is a mixed bag for writers. Royalty rates are typically higher for e-books than for printed books, but advances may be shrinking or close to non-existent. Authors Graham Swift and Morrison both envision a time when writers won’t be paid at all, or barely enough to get by. I don’t know what the future will bring on this front, but the e-book revolution opens up a new potential revenue stream: product placement.

Imagine the following: an author is paid to have his characters drink Coca-Cola products exclusively. The word ‘Coke’ is underlined in your reader, and an image pops up showing a Coke can, or a little voice whispers ‘Coke is it!’, ‘It’s the real thing’ or whatever the Coca-Cola slogan of the day is. What if, during an intensely-emotional scene, you write, “Terri pulled a tissue from the box on the bedside table and blew her nose.” See what I did there? Is this something that could help authors make the money that Morrison insists is going to disappear? Would the text of our books start looking like Nascar drivers or the jerseys of European hockey clubs?

This may not be as far away as you think. An Absolute Write thread linked to an article about a device that can add a soundtrack to an e-reader, and will actually pace the soundtrack to your reading speed. Personally, I don’t like the idea of devices reading me while I’m reading them any more than I like the idea of letting my car park itself

And then there are the sidebar ads. One of the reasons we have so much free content on the web is because of all those little advertisements that pop up or sit quietly on the sides or buried within the text and images of news stories and the like. MSN is the default page when I open my web browser. There are at least five blocks of ‘real’ ads on the page, plus numerous ads that masquerade as news stories and link to programs that originate within the family. Is this something we will see within the pages of our e-books? Will authors be able to sell space in their books to Google Adsense? It would certainly seem easy enough to do.

I suspect most readers would balk at the idea, and raise holy hell. Just like we did back in the late ‘70’s when the until-then commercial-free sports station on cable TV that carried the Rangers and Islanders started slipping commercials in. We protested, and it did no good. And now, it’s an accepted and expected part of the deal. Sure, readers would howl about the inclusion of ads in books, but how long would it last? The first time Stephen King has ads for Coke or Burger King in his e-book, he’ll still sell millions of copies despite the outcry, and before you know it, we’ll all be used to it, and there won’t be any other way to read.

And if we don’t get paid for actually writing out books, as Morrison and others think, maybe this will be all that we’ve got. I surely hope it doesn’t come to this.

What do you think? Will advertising soon be appearing in e-books? If you could, would you allow it in yours?


Graham Swift on royalty rates and e-books and also here

Ewan Morrison on the dim future of authors

And a dissenting opinion from Joe Konrath (and thanks to Donna for pointing it out).

An article on the Booktrack.

Have a great weekend, all.