We might be 100% literate, but does it matter?
Ever since 5th grade, I remember hearing people discuss how the Internet and other forms of new media are affecting our literary rate and absorption of information. For instance, there are two primary types of Internet users: A) Innovators and B) Consumers. Most people admit they hop online throughout the day to check their email, Facebook, Twitter, and a few other sites. When it comes to the moments we are lost searching the web, what do we look at?
Some people may simply hop onto entertainment sites to relax, and others may search the web for something to learn. Admittedly, I'm a mix of both. I tend to have a student mentality when I'm roaming the streets of the Internet, although I do recognize sometimes I am misinformed by what I find. What's interesting, though, is that I read more than I do anything else online. Sure I work on this website, blog, and do some elementary programming, but I am mostly reading.
Why? Because I was raised in a literate society. As a matter of fact, in most areas of the United States, people are 100% literate - according to this Big Think article. Functional literacy is another animal, for being able to read is far different from understanding, applying, and communicating information. But the article I mentioned before, brings up a good point: "There's a parallel in this story for how we should think about the disruptive information technology pervading our current era. Literacy is to the printed word as programming is to the internet."
So while many people are thinking the Internet is destroying our literacy rate, could it be the Internet requires different type of skill?
The Language of the Internet
Let's face it: If you're reading this blog, you're fairly literate. As a matter of fact, if you rule out functional literacy, almost everyone can read and writer. Prior to moveable type in the 1500s, people didn't need to be literate, but they needed to know every other aspect of life and communication. Most of them did.
As the way we learn, communicate, and live changes, so will the meaning of literacy. Literacy came with the revolution of mass-produced literature. As of late, the most popular advance in technology has been social platforms, no eBook. Of course, you had to be literate to learn how to program, and most new skills evolve from a prior set. Is it possible that one day those who are literate but don't know how to to program are going to be the ones left behind? In essence, what happens when those who claim to be literate become illiterate in a new era?
What does it mean to brand self-pubbed books?
"Seal" for Rock*It Reads Self-Published Books.
Earlier this afternoon, I was intrigued by a Facebook post from Jane Friedman on a growing trend in self-publishing. She shared a USA Today article on Rock*It Reads which discusses the use of a "seal" or logo on self-published books to filter them out from other ones within the same genre. It also recognizes some authors are aiming to reach a similar audience and allows them to work together to make the experience better for both authors and readers.
Such a maneuver has already been utilized by groups such as Vouched Books to separate certain indie books from others. Now self-published works are following suit.
If you use social media for any reason, especially if you're an author, you should definitely subscribe to or follow Jane Friedman.
Jane Friedman is a former publishing & media exec who now teaches full-time at the University of Cincinnati. She has spoken on writing, publishing, and the future of media at more than 200 events since 2001, including South by Southwest, BookExpo America, and the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. To find her long list of credentials, visit her site (it's worthwhile).
Groups such as Rock*It Reads are allowing certain authors to place their seals/logos on books to validate their writing as top-notch and work to reach a similar audience. In turn this is a collaboration allowing them to place their books in one location/category in an effort to stand out from the thousands of other self-published books. In the following, Jane Friedman gives her thoughts on a trend she predicted in The Future of Publishing: Enigma Variations.
Thoughts on collectives:
C.M. Humphries (C): In what ways to you a) find this beneficial to authors and b) find it harmful to newer authors who have yet to establish themselves?
Jane Friedman (J): At the moment, I only see how this can benefit authors who are independently publishing. Regardless of whether you like the idea of gatekeepers and "tiers" of authors, the truth is that readers need some way of filtering out what they're most likely to be interested in, and trustworthy ways of discovering new authors. I don't think it's a bad thing that self-published authors have to prove themselves. And if you don't want to prove yourself to a collective, that's fine. Go find your own readers.
"Tier" concerns aside, collectives are a good marketing strategy for authors who know that they appeal to the same type of readers, and it's definitely in the readers' interest as well.
C: How exactly does this process work? Is it only for traditionally published authors who have self-published works as well?
J: There is no process, per se, that I've seen. It's like any group of people or businesses who get together and decide, "We're targeting very similar audiences, so let's collaborate." I don't think it's limited to any particular author; you already see traditionally published authors banding together informally to promote each other. A collective just makes it more formal.
C: Do you expect this trend to continue - perhaps to a point at which there will be a "seal of approval" for almost all genres/books?
J: I imagine this will be a popular tool in an author's marketing arsenal, but I doubt a stamp of approval will be required for every single book. Different authors will have different ways of connecting with readers. (And not all readers will be knowledgeable or aware of all the "seals" either. It only makes sense when the seal starts to mean something to readers or the marketplace.)
C: What might make one seal more prestigious than another?
J: Undoubtedly the names of the authors in a collective will drive the prestige at first, but once the collective machine is up and running, the brand name would likely be powerful by itself, without knowledge of what authors are connected to it.
What Are Your Thoughts?
I would love to hear any comments on the aforementioned questions! Is this a helpful/harmful trend? Where do you think this will lead the self-publishing world?
Have Books Become Boring?
There a lot of people out there who criticize the current state of the publishing industry, and in some aspects, I am one of them.
Although an erroneous generalization, many people have to turned to or turned away from literature because of certain over-saturations within the mainstream market. This is the very reason mainstream literature is often stigmatized. The overall notion is, the publishing industry finds one profitable concept and milks it dry.
Since the increased popularity of romanticized monsters in the young adult market, a lot of fiction has turned to run-of-the-mill stories about falling in love with the dead or undead. On one hand, this is a very odd notion since it's illegal to practice necrophilia, vampires do not possess the proper circulatory system to practice procreation, and it is doubtful beings who have been around for hundreds of years would have any interest in spending time with young women drowning in lust, gluttony, and teenage angst. However, it is translates to many who long for a sort of eternal love and who want to take a step back from the offerings of reality.
Unfortunately, such stories have become too far and vast for anyone to have an interest any longer. The general feeling in the realm of the reader is that very little fiction is revolutionary. Their aren't many books with strong cult followings, such as with Fight Club or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
I want to discuss both ends of the spectrum - that is, why the aforementioned ideas are both accurate and inaccurate. It's important to look into the difference between marketability and the way stories translates across many demographics, as well as how some ideas have become lost in the translation. It's also my point to establish the difference between taking risks and taking risks that work, which includes writers and publishers alike.
Is Facebook A Social Horror?
Admittedly, I use social media way more than I should. It comes with the territory of promoting my writing, but I think it's obligating me to something I'm not so certain I want to be doing on a regular basis.
To clarify, I love Twitter. Twitter allows users to completely channel their interests, whereas Facebook can be too broad. For me, I started a Twitter account as a writer, which allowed me to act more like a professional and associate with people who enjoy the same things I do. Even with group divisions, though, Facebook is a great mess.
Some nights I'll be up chatting with readers, writers, and friends while I'm promoting - and well - just hanging out. During those nights, though, I occasionally feel a strange sense of loneliness. But why?
Facebook Tortures You
Studies out of MIT and Harvard suggests we feel productive on Facebook. For instance, when I promote it stimulates me some how, like I'm sharing information on what I am doing with my life. But the truth is, I'm not sharing too much personal information. I'm all shiny and Mr. Writer Pants. What else is going on, though? I'm not going to tell you, and that's part of the Facebook dilemma.
We spend hours skimming through status. We notice some people are getting those great jobs right out of college, or they're always at parties. They look great, are doing amazing things, etc. Their lives are better than hours.
For some reason, even when we recognize the online facades, our minds still feel the stressors. At least, that's one thought.
Facebook is Your Ally
Social scientists,according to this article, suggest there is no such loneliness epidemic due to entities such as Facebook:
"If we turned to historians to measure Americans’ degree of isolation over the centuries, they would probably find periods of growing and lessening social connection. The rough evidence indicates a general decline in isolation. When you think back to, say, a century ago, don’t call up some nostalgic Our Town image (although alienation is a theme in that play). Picture more accurately the millions of immigrants and jobless, farm-less Americans trekking from one part of the country to another, out of touch with family and likely to be trekking again the next year. "
Another part of the study claims we are not locked in our dungeons, observing instances of how our lives could be better; instead, it declares we are networking and keeping up with meaningful relationships.
Overall, there is evidence that shows people turn to new technologies to blame their worries on.
So my question is, WHAT'S YOUR TAKE ON SOCIAL MEDIA LIKE FACEBOOK?
Do you think social media are more beneficial than haunting? Are you somewhere in between like me?
My thoughts exactly.
Please don’t let zombies join the ranks of poorly saturated vampires and werewolves. Sorry, I am using the word zombie is this blog. I know you should never use the z-word.
Any avid fan of horror will tell you, the abovementioned creatures are to be feared and occasionally sympathized with. In the past, it was okay if you didn’t enjoy the likes of Frankenstein, “The Return of Timmy Baterman” or The Wolf’s Hour.
Anymore, though, all the media giants are pushing a cult following into mainstream. Mind you, slipstream to mainstream is a natural evolution. It was the very downfall (or genesis) or Hot Topic. But monsters were doing so well in niche markets, which eventually lead to them being shoved down our throats.
When we read or watch something about a monster, we want to be too terrified to go to bed. We want it to come from the darkest shadows or the most horrifying origins and chase us back against a wall. Sure these creatures can be like Frankenstein’s Monster and have a rich background somewhat justifying their actions, but please don’t make them goofy.
Even Evil Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Drag Me to Hell are goofy horror movies, but you know what, they still scare the hell out of people. What we are faced with – especially in film – is this watered down, PG version of horror. Even though I like John Dies at the End and Zombieland, I’ll admit those two stories lead to some of poorly constructed zombie movies we see now.
Zombieland, though enjoyable, re-introduced a crummy concept to film, which then bled back into fiction (how many zombie books are there now?). The film comes off as a quirky story of an unlikely group of survivors battling zombies in the search of love, a theme park, and Twinkies. It even has many of the zombie tropes.
But what is the film at heart?
It’s a story of a fledging love between two youngsters, AKA a romantic comedy. Yes, I said it. A romantic comedy.
Please make it stop. Even in literature we see this romantic zombie comedy style (Rom-Zom-Com) with Breathers: A Zombie's Lament , and as mentioned, John Dies at the End . Now, these stories don’t necessarily need a love relationship to be classified together. Pretty much, if it’s like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland , it’s exactly what we don’t need any more of.
My hope is this year the popularity of zombies will die down and later return to those gruesome tales we’ve loved so much.
I'm at my desk working on Excluded promotions, when I glance at the Amazon link for my debut novel. First off, I'm ecstatic Amazon picked it up so quickly, and I'm optimistic Barnes & Noble and Apple will too.
But then I glanced at the advertisement below the novel . . .
Amazon wants to know if I see a problem with the advertisements. YES!
I swear, the Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian scandal is going to haunt me for life. I wouldn't be surprised at all if they get our tombstones mixed up, or if I receive a letter from Kardashian asking for half of my money.
Maybe this is a good opportunity for me. Maybe I should exploit the celebrities to promote my book, but I don't see my adds anywhere on their articles!
I think I should point out the differences.
I hope this clears things up.
What You Write, Not Where
When I graduated from Ball State University, I had big plans for the future. Why not? I'd spent 4 years dipping a pen in my cerebral juices and constructing countless articles, research papers, short stories, flash fiction pieces, novels, screenplays, theoretical analyses, mis en scenes, and I battled exams and an endless series of sleepless nights. Not to mentioned I maintained reading gigs and a social life. I was ready for the real world.
Then, I entered the real world, and how I was wrong. A degree just meant I was with 70% of Americans, and around 50% of the unemployed. My big dreams, they seemed over. I was back in small-town, Indiana. No one I knew really liked to read. And as far as a career went, real life wasn't about pursuing your occupational goals, it was about finding a job that sounded like something you could do, although you wouldn't necessarily enjoy it or get to demonstrate your skill set.
When things went from worse to worst, I started to write more. However, writing now seemed daunting. I mean, how could I succeed as a writer when I was buried in some nowhere-town and surrounded by people who didn't want or have the time to read? I didn't even know another writer within 2 hours of travel. Until recently, I thought I was completely screwed.
Then I read about this author named Arthur Longworth (which is a sweet name), who in 1985, was convicted of murder. Now before we begin, I don't condone violence or support many convicts, but what's interesting is how this man wrote.
I sat at my desk, in a Midwest abyss, wondering how I could succeed in my environment, when Longworth was in prison doing the same. In short, Longworth spent countless days and nights in "the hole" scrounging for the breadcrumbs his cell mates left him.
Just when he tried to pick up the crumbs, the ants would come and take them away. So he began to notice how the ants could endure even in the worst environment. What an analogy! So he wrote about it.
His manuscript along with several subsequent works of literature have won him 2 National Literary Awards, including "Best Prison Memoir". Pulitzer-Winning author Junot Diaz even read his work on stage in New York.Colleges are started to adapt his work as well.
Although he writes about life in prison, he considers his writing an achievement: "It feels like a victory in some ways, because I'm not supposed to be able to do this," Longworth describes his success.
I think a lot of writers can relate to this. (The writing part, not the murder or prison elements.) To write in environment that doesn't believe in the art/craft is one of the most demotivating feelings an author can have. What's great, though, is haven written under tough circumstances. Writing isn't any easy gig, but that's why it feels so damn good to have that work of literature published. The harder it is to produce a manuscript, the better it feels when someone else is reading it, or even when a fan says, "I enjoyed this."
Writers tend to be against a fist when it comes to pursuing an artistic endeavor. There are so many elements which makes us want to succumb to the naysayers. But perseverance is the key to success, and the harder the struggle, the greater the reward. It doesn't matter where you writer, but that you keep on writing.
Things You Might Enoy
Excluded is Not for Everyone - But Here's Where to Find It
. . . especially if you find no joy in the following:
Win a Copy of Excluded - Like & Share
Oh yes, though it may seem like a bad financial decision for a writer, I am going to give away a few free copies of my book.
Well, with Excluded being an eBook, I decided to be a little more creative about said endeavor. I have designed custom-made wafer-style flash drives which will contain the preferred format of Excluded for a few lucky winners.
To enter the contest, all you have to do is LIKE THE FACEBOOK PAGE or tweet/RT something regarding Excluded (make sure you let me know). The drawing date is still TBA.
You can enter once by liking a post about the Excluded page and enter again by SHARING the link. For more details, go here. It's easy. Like it to enter. Share to enter again.
My Favorite Characters
One of the most common questions I have received is, What characters were the most fun to write.
On the whole, the entire novel was a lot of fun to write. I'll admit, though, there were definitely a couple of characters I had a sadistic blast writing.
ADAM COY - is an arsonist with a kick-ass last name. (Who wouldn't want to have it?) He comes from a rough childhood, which I won't spoil here, and ends up a murderer. He believes most people have the weapon of their demise right in their own homes, and tends to burn down any evidence.
Wanna learn more about him?
Mandel Marrel - is definitely a close second, if not equally as psychotic. Out of the disclaimer at the beginning of the blog, he's involved in about 15 of them. You can learn a little bit about the psychology of Mandel Marrel here.
What Kind of Novel is Excluded?
Excluded is a horror novel at the simplest level. It's a tale of six individuals who struggle to survive in the Douglas Residence. As my first novel, I like the idea of beginning with a house-horror. I'll be honest, I love stories in which the characters are confined to a horror structure.
Excluded is also somewhat aware of its genre. At the risk of coming off too dorky, I tried to install certain elements of the novel in which the trappings of a good house-horror are mocked.
For the sake of a comparison, I think if you like authors like John Saul or Richard Laymon, you may end up like Excluded. It's a leisurely horror novel with some social commentary and a whole lot of haunting images.
More on Excluded
What are your expectations as writer?
This is a pretty common question for me, but I think the question itself presumes the person asking the question knows what it means to be a writer.
Writers are often thought of as these lazy individuals too stubborn to procure a "real" job, which insists writing isn't work in the first place. No one wins the title of "author" or "writer" by scribbling down a few thousand words to be found by an agent, editor, publisher, etc. It takes hard work, years of rejection, and discipline.
Even the notion of over-night bestsellers is misguided. It takes most of those writers a decade or more to place their bestselling manuscript in someone else's hands. Writers never stop writing. They never stop reading. They go on tours, which sometimes includes reading to an empty room or waiting for someone to show up a bookstore and for a signed copy of a book.
There isn't some magic hat writers place their name into and are pulled from. There aren't quiz shows or lottery tickets in which luck can grant us literary salvation. There are no shortcuts.
It's about tuning out the world while you write, ignoring the lack of food in the refrigerator, escaping the unpaid bills, the screaming children and animals. It requires the ability to flesh out ideas even when everyone around thinks of you as a bum or doesn't believe in you, when there seems to be no one you can relate to, or when you're expected to accept shift-work as the only way through life.
That's only part of what makes up writing, but what can one expect from it? It sounds like a complicated interview question, as in "why do you like this line or work?" The question could easily be "Why do you like anything?" or "Why do you love what you love?"
While I can't speak for all writers, I think a lot of writing is about standing out. It's about knowing you can make a difference, or at least you can share a story. Some people are good at moving product or leading business, whereas writers are good at writing. Sure, anyone can write, but can everyone write a story worth reading and then rewrite it over and over just to have someone else ask for a full manuscript rewrite within a matter of days?
Standing out as a writer means being able to find success in the form of art and work you hold dearly. To be a successful writer, you must also be good at networking and be business savvy. It's an entrepreneurial position: You employ yourself not only as an artist, but to be a business person who can move their own product.
Personally, I want to evolve as a writer and become one of those "best-sellers" for two reasons: a) To find a comfortable means of living, which includes loving what I do and managing responsibilities; b) If there ever was some sort of financial surplus through writing, I would give much of it back.
If the point of writing is to share your ideas and stories, then in similar line of thinking, success as a writer should include giving most of it back. You depended on people to bring you to new heights. You rely on empathy and sympathy to make a story work. So if you really mean those things, it's only right to help correct the problems you see and help communities that so badly need it.
In the end, what you want as a writer and what you do as writer are all determined by what type of writer you are. But in the end, it's a difficult journey for most people. If wasn't so damn hard, it wouldn't feel so damn good. It's not too unlike anything else in the world. It's a matter of defining your own success, reaching those goals, and finding happiness.
The writer is more concerned to know than to judge.
Joe Hill and His Swag.
I came across an 2011 CNN article today which featured fantasy and horror writer Joe Hill. Now, whenever someone speaks of Joe Hill, there's automatically a giant elephant in the room. Why? Because he has his father. Who's his father?
At any rate, what impressed me about Joe Hill, besides his novel Heart-Shaped Box and a few of his stories from 20th Century Ghosts, is his mind set as a writer.
Be Your Own Writer
Granted, Hill probably had a nice boost from being the son of what's-his-face, but he didn't want that to help him. He told CNN:
I'm very close to my dad, my best friend. I talk to him every day, and he is a huge source of inspiration for me. I knew by the time I was in college I wanted to be a professional writer as well, but I also started to think that the last name was actually more of a disadvantage than an advantage.
Most writers I know don't have a great family hook-up in the writing industry. And to be honest, if his dad was my dad, I would have thought twice about using a pen name. That's what makes Hill a great writer. He didn't want to piggyback off of his dad, so he decided to shorten his name so he could have a career of his own.
In the United States, there are dozens of celebrity children who only rise to fame because of their parents, and then they turn around and make money off of careers they never quite established. While this unfair, you cannot blame people for the family they are born into. However, some of us get a little sick with individuals like the Kardashians (don't remind me of the Kris Humphries scandal) hogging up magazine space (which could be use for better articles by, you know, WRITERS) and TV time (which also could consist of shows written by WRITERS). And what do they do? Whatever their inherited success allows them to buy.
But Hill chose to throw most of that away. By sharing the same last name as his parents, he was guaranteed publication. He also wanted to have a long career. If anything he wrote was published for being a what's-their-faces, a crappy novel could have emerged. That novel would sell like James Cameron movies, but if it sucked, his career would be over.Still, he writers the same kind of stuff as his father, so has he used the family to his advantage?
Write What You Know
He grew up in a fantasy/horror household. This is what he knew, and although this piece of advice is generally abused and misunderstood, he grew up with ghost stories and ended up writing ghost stories.
Left: What's-his-face Right: Joe Hill
In essence, I not only like Joe Hill's works, but also respect the man as a human being.
Sure I don't know him through anything more than his tweets, but being a good person also reflects well on a writer.
Remember, you are your best selling point. Be organic.
Jonathan Franzen, bestselling author such titles as Freedom and The Corrections, showed his deepest hatred for new technology, especially eBooks, at the Hay Festival in Cartagena, Colombia.
While it's worth mentioning both of his books are available in the eBook form, it is also worth noting he doesn't mean eBooks alone will bring down all we have come to known.
eBooks are a mere example of what he calls "fragmentation." That is, technologies such as the Internet, cable, cellular telecommunications devices, among others cause a lack of concentration and offer far too much noise.
For instance, he elaborates in one Guardian article that, because people can't stop consuming their techno-toys such as iPhones, politicians no longer matter, banks control the governments, the banks won't back up their policies, and the people have no control.
Certainly technology does alter the direction of capitalist nations. I can agree that intense consumerism leads to the producers having the upper hand - mind you, capitalism favors the haves over the have-nots. In essence, whoever funds the companies which make the products we consume seizes control.
But isn't that they way it's always been?
Roosevelt shut down banks during the Great Depression, for many citizens felt the banks had too much control and were losing their clients' funds. Hoover shut down all banks and only allowed them reopen if they displayed great integrity. Franzen shouldn't be pointing the finger at such things as eBooks for the overwhelming power of banks. He should be finding a way to stabilize that control, or find a way to pass the control back to the people. I mean, that's what most of his books are about.
I'm not really here to complain about banks, however. What bothers me is his suggestion eBooks are the problem because they lack a sense of permanence.
He claims anyone with an Internet connection cannot write "good fiction." In my view, anyone without either Internet connection or Internet awareness cannot be relevant. I admire the way he disconnects himself from technology as he writes a novel - and this includes various computer games he indulges himself in (eek, absent-minded consumerism!), but I think he's in denial.
eBooks, for instance, can be altered, but who the hell does that? There are still new editions of books, if need-be, and most people just like to read where ever they go. Are eBook consumers blind to the world? No! The entire notion of eReaders is so you don't have to lug around countless books as you explore the world. Even better, eReaders let you download a book instantly if someone recommends it to you, or, say, you're in Ireland and what to read up on some culture.
(eBooks came from solid conceptions, although it's fair to say companies went overboard with eReaders to turn a dollar.)
What he also fails to see, is eBooks aren't the end of the world. That's apparent. They are a stage of evolution. The world changes, always has, always will. If eBooks lead to some new world order, the people of that order will soon learn and adjust. His lack of faith in humanity is appalling, even to a pessimist such as myself. Besides, who said you have to choose eBook or print? I love both and still buy both.
If there's one absolute in life, it's that you never really have control.
As far as impermanence is concerned, the ideas behind the story are what stick around. The focus of a writer should be on the story and what it means, rather than the medium.
Again, what is Franzen suggesting? Nothing really, he's only passing blame. At the end of his statement he added, "One of the consolations of dying is that [you think], 'Well, that won't have to be my problem'. . . . Seriously, the world is changing so quickly that if you had any more than 80 years of change I don't see how you could stand it psychologically."
On a final note, during the heyday of the Gutenberg Printing Press "was criticized for allowing the dissemination of information which may have been incorrect."
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.