Fear, focus, and the future. Here, C.M. Humphries writes about whatever.
It's been awhile since I wrote the popular "5 Elements of a Good Horror Story", which made me wonder if there was anything more I could add to the list. As I worked a bit more on Ashland's Asylum, I realized there is a great concept I completely missed - the concept of false antagonists and allies. After all, shouldn't any good horror story keep you guessing who's the bad guy and who's the hero?
Lately there's been a major buzz about print publications, copyright infringement, our education rate, and what role literature will have in the future. Luckily, it seems many people are acting out to insure a better tomorrow. The times have changed, so have publishers, news sources, print and digital technologies, as well as our educational systems. All of these things combined show three signs of hope for the future.
I'm not sure what all happened while I took my short hiatus recently, but it appears the world is radiating animosity in the direction of writers and booksellers.
First, I found an article by Brenna Clarke Gray in which she argues how much people hate passive aggressive writers. There are writers out there (she says self-pub'd & independent, but I've seen NY-pub'd authors do it too) who try to make you feel guilty for their lack of success. These writers argue it's because the reader didn't buy their book. I agree with Gray that it's really annoying.
The same thought of passive aggressiveness now leads us to the topic of bookstores. Whether Barnes & Noble or indie, brick n' mortar booksellers are quickly becoming a relic of the past. Many argue just because they're failing, doesn't mean readers have to save them by shopping. Today I would like to argue why you might actually want to help booksellers out.
Like the writer, it is not the reader's job to save or help create the dream. Why do you shop on Amazon or half-priced, used bookstores? Because it makes sense. Books can be expensive. However, continue reading if you'd like to hear me out on this one.
I've been talking about hand-bound, signed, & numbered copies of No-Injury Policy lately, and now there a few pictures from the construction stage of these special editions of my debut short story collection.
While these a just a few pictures for now, keep tuned in to the blog for later updates on the hand-bound books. Next time, I'll show you better quality images of the finished product as well as some snippets of how I made the books.
Of course, you can always request one here. Mind you, these can take awhile to produce. Intuitively, you might think the construction time causes the slight delay. However, it's actually procuring all of the materials. For instance, I travel to find a suitable book cloth for the hand-bounds, some of which is only carried in limited quantities.
At any rate, check out the mid-stage of the hand-binding process.
The Biggest Giveaway I've Ever Done.
Us masterminds behind Somewhere in the Shadows: The Anthology decided it would be cool to create a giveaway.
Naturally, we wanted to give away copies of Somewhere in the Shadows. Instead, we thought it would be a lot cooler to have a competition.
This contest is akin to an arcade game: Certain accomplishments reward in more tickets than others. Score the most points, and you'll win nearly every book published by every author.
In other words, if you win, you might need to either buy a new bookshelf or expand your eReader's memory. I, alone, am handing out free paperbacks copies of No-Injury Policy and eBook copies of both #NIP & Excluded.
Pretty good deal, right? Here's how you play:
You pick a task. Each task is awarded a different amount of tickets. Say you do something on twitter, you just copy & paste the link into the box. If you visit a website, you copy & paste that link into the box.
Win a Small Library of Books!
Those of us behind Somewhere in the Shadows decided to put together a sweet little giveaway.
If you're a boss, you'll win a copy of every book in the contest.
If you're a middleman, you'll win a book of your choice and an eBook of Somewhere in the Shadows.
If you're the muscle, you might squeeze your way into third place, which is a copy of the anthology.
What's cool is you already qualify for 2 tickets. Copy the link of this page into the tab for visiting cmhumphries.com!
Today someone asked me whether eBooks and whatever is next will ultimately replace print. I get this question a lot, and I've probably touched on the subject somewhere in this blog. However, I think I have a clearer view as to why print is here to stay, and it's broken down into five fancy smidgens (in no particular order).
Transgressive fiction is nothing new. In fact, although I coin myself a transgressive writer, it's kinda like saying punk rock after the 1980s. To be a true trangressive writer, many would argue you must've been a published pen between the late 1800s and early 1900s. However, many writers of the new and sorta new can be found quite easily today, such as Amy Hempel and Chuck Palahniuk. Oh yeah, James Joyce - you know Ulysses - is a pretty common gem. While we're name dropping: Bret Easton Ellis, Anthony Burgess, Elizabeth Young.
Trangressive fiction started with prose that was often banned or chastised for being too obscene, too vulgar, or just too close to home. These stories brought the social struggles of their times into an honest - admittedly sometimes dark - portrayal. Some people go to the extreme, while others might just rip on consumerism.
The thing about transgressive fiction is that's it's about what's right. Here are 3 points to consider if you ever find yourself bored in a Barnes & Noble and want to count the trangressive writers throughout the entire store.
Today I was spoiled with an opportunity to interview author Andrew Cyrus Hudson, the mastermind behind Somewhere in the Shadows: The Anthology. See, he's the guy who designed the book and had it made.
He's worked with multiple aspects of publishing, and his passion resides in producing a book from the ground up. He's also the guy who asked me to be in the short story collection.
You know that "Charlatan" thing I've been, admittedly, self-promoting like crazy as of late? That's the short story I contributed.
For now, here are the publishing-related questions and his uncensored response to them all.
C.M. Humphries (C):
C: How did you decide which authors would be in the anthology?
C: What were the overhead expenses for producing such an anthology?
C: What are your future plans for Somewhere in the Shadows or for other story collections?
C: Where can everyone find you online?
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Ask Andrew Cyrus Hudson Anything About Somewhere in the Shadows or independent & self-publishing in the comments - and earn points towards a hand-bound edition of No-Injury Policy!
By nature, literature has always remained somewhat conservative. I don't mean this in any political way, and I don't mean the content is too PG (I think that wave is almost over). When I say literature is a bit too conservative, I mean the concept of a book or publication. Literature has always been slow to react, as we saw with the Big 6's hesitance towards eBooks. And even though we're somewhere in the transition from print to digital, I don't think the eBook will ever save literature, so to speak. I've come up with 3 ideas for literature to save itself, or otherwise it might contribute to it's own death.
It's getting closer to bedtime and you're looking at your loved one, thinking about the ways you would love to express your love. The day was a long one, and now you want to share the excitement of a relationship and reduce stress in one fell swoop. You start with the sweet nothings and pillow talk shortly before your loved one turns to you and says they're too tired, too stressed, or they have a headache. Now, making love would be the cure-all in this instance, but it takes two to tango. Getting two people to agree about anything is difficult. So there you are, wanting to embrace your lover and wishing the stressors keeping you awake at night would go away. What do you do?
There's a good chance this post will piss a lot of people off. See, this one is all about publishing - what it is and it isn't. It's no secret that No-Injury Policy is self-published, but trust me, there's a great deal of trepidation as I type this sentence. See, self-published works often procure the curious eye and the furrowed brow. Self-publishing is said to be for the impatient, the lazy, and the worst of writers. But ever wonder who says such things? Consider this: I, like many authors, have a dream of one day being part of either Random House or Penguin Group. That means you made it, right? If you guessed "yes", the you really need to keep on reading.
When expectations are high, money is tight, love is tainted and stress is ubiquitous, the citizens of Chase County will do anything to make sure they survive. From the deconstruction of a town to frivolous intercourse with strangers, No-Injury Policy explores the dark depths of human nature when social pressures peak.
No sooner than the meek taste retribution, however, they encounter the demons that have aided authority figures to the top - demons that refuse to lose control no matter what it takes.
No-Injury Policy is the 1st short story collection by C.M. Humphries, showcasing seven of the eeriest tales from every town in Chase County: Raven's Crook, Lovington, Lakeside, and Long Brooke.
Following along as I provide a snippet of each story in the collection. If there's a picture to the left of the premise, that means I blogged on a topic from the story. Be sure to check them all out.
Before you read this there's a good chance you checked your Facebook. If you scrolled around your news feed, you might've also scoffed at all the wishy-washy relationship nonsense. Let's not kid ourselves. Sometimes you wonder if anyone has a working relationship. But here's the thing: I stumbled across the answer and I'm going to provide the first step towards a working relationship for free. Now, this post has little to do with eReaders (as the title might've implied) and more to do with books, both digital and print. Ladies and gentlemen, future avid No-Injury Policy readers, prepare yourselves for bibliotherapy.
There's no reason to despise Young Adult novels simply because they're geared towards teens. In fact, there have always been Y.A. novels (remember good ol' The Perks of Being a Wallflower or Flowers for Algernon?). What should be a concern, however, is the way Y.A. books could affect the way our youth will read in the future.
Apples to Bookworms
I'll reiterate so there's no confusion: I don't mind Y.A. novels. Granted Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Harry Potter allusions bore me to death at times, all of the Y.A. series have been crucial to literature in the last 20 years for two main reasons:
1.) Y.A. books, especially fiction, have inspired more teens than ever to read. In fact, since 2007, teens have dominated certain markets which were normally ruled by 20- to 40-year-old women.
2.) Literature, especially genre fiction, needed a fresh look. Let's face it, Vanilla Ice was cool before he wasn't, right? Dean Koontz used to be as much of a household name as Stephen King and has holds as many, if not more, titles to his pen name, yet I encounter countless individuals who've never heard of the guy.
What I want to focus on is the first part - how teens are gobbling up Y.A. literature.
One post started by Andrew Karre claimed Y.A. was a disruptive force in literature akin to Apple's presence in the last 10 to 20 years. This is an interesting point. In short, a disruptive force or technology is a game changer. For instance, the way we consume technology has completely changed since the emergence of superfluous iSomethings.
Our technology is mostly for consumption now. As I've mentioned before, eReaders in the form of tablets can be more a distraction than useful tool. It's like if you could open a print publication and Skype at the same time. Even more interesting is a concept not fully explored in Karre's article. He states we have a new look on literature like we do with cell phones since the iPhone. These game changes aren't necessarily "bad", but they shake things up. If you're in doubt, my argument alone should serve as some evidence that Y.A. and Apple have both caused a stir.
While I like Karre's viewpoint, I want to explore deeper into the aforementioned comparison.
The Counter Culture Paradox
I think Y.A. literature has the ball in its court, but it's not passing when it knows it can make a 3-pointer.
Let's digress for a moment. Remember MTV when it was full of Beavis and Butthead episodes between music videos? Remember the MTV-sponsored Sprite commercials?
What happen was MTV and Coca-Cola were partnered in youth-centered social venues and certain promotions. They did substantial research, which included face-to-face interviews with their teenager consumers, and found direct advertisements didn't work. That's when they started using celebrities and sport stars to advertise in the most anti-advertisement way. In a strange sort of metacommentary, the advertisements made fun of the way people advertise, while still advertising.
Teenagers dug this concept. It was new and interesting. It responded to their views on the topic of blatant advertising. However, after awhile, teenagers became wise to their act and the above-mentioned practices became too common and fake to say the least.
This is my fear with Y.A. There's nothing wrong with a story that targets a younger audience or simply has a lot of young characters, themes, motifs, etc. The problem is the marketing.
We've all beaten vampire novels to death with our new-found stigmatization. It seems from readers to publishers, everyone is sick of monster-based melodramas. Nevertheless, more and more keep becoming available. Before long, Barnes and Noble Showrooms might have to add on a vampire wing.
See, magic took off again with the Harry Potter series. Then we had Twilight, which to be honest was an easy transition.
Now Y.A. books all seem to be very similar. They all want to cash in on this moment in literary history. From a everything-is-a-business standpoint, it makes sense. But here's what happens:
Too Dark to Read, Too Light to Care
When everyone is trying to push similar fiction onto the market, they have to reach a new extreme. This is nothing new.
The problem is, teens often want to read things that are banned. You've probably experienced a high school library removing certain novels because they were too graphic, violent, etc.
As Y.A. fiction became more popular, the amount of "darker" fiction increased. Take the term to mean whatever you'd like, but simply put, fiction had to be a bit more risque to keep teenagers reading. Then, of course, Y.A. novels like this one, reached a level in which they started being banned.
In this situation, two things happen:
1.) The books available to young adults are too bland and PG to keep their interests. This, in turn, could lead to a disinterest in literature altogether. Let's face it, if you can only consume PG information or 19th Century literature, you might lose your mind or need to take a break.
2.) Our books become cookie-cutter. Think Pokemon here. Damn popular franchise that was ruined by it's own success. The more popular it became, the shorter it's life expectancy became. Twilight is a victim here too. I don't think people would've minded the series until t-shirts latched onto clothing stores like parasites and you couldn't go a day with out someone comparing their significant other to a vampire.
If Y.A. stays tunnel-visioned, then we might see teens turning away from literature again, because most of it is too similar to care or too light to be interesting. Right now publishers have the opportunity to keep things fresh or keep cashing in. I have faith, but then again, remember how traditional publishers originally felt about this whole "eBook" thing? Like that ever caught on.
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Do you think popular media today have an affect on the way literature history of future generations will look back on novels?
For instance, Mary Shelley, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut and many other authors are remembered for their works because of quality and relevance.
Today, many novels have become famous largely due to TV and film adaptations. Do you believe the popular stories of today will be remembered in their initial form or because of their saturation through other forms of media?
I was fortunate enough to ask these questions to Red Fez editor and Literary Underground mastermind Lynn Alexander and New York Times Bestselling author of such books as Crank Ellen Hopkins. Here's what they had to say:
Saturation - Lynn Alexander
Red Fez Editor Lynn Alexander
Unfortunately I think many novels are commercially successful because of the franchise model, and the ability to translate the story elements into marketable merchandise in addition to films. A good example is Twilight because it wasn't just the movies but also the way that stores like Hot Topic were able to blitz the niche market of young readers with merchandise. Walk in at the height and you would have seen DVD parties, t shirts, pencil cases, earrings . . . We saw the same for Harry Potter and now with Hunger Games.
I think that these kinds of novels will be remembered for the trend, less for the novels themselves. I find that many people have not actually READ the novels but it doesn't seem to matter.
Now on the other hand, I think there are novels that will be remembered because of their ideas - helped along by film of course but also helped by the appeal of the concept regardless of form. Think Fight Club. Great novel, great movie. Doesn't matter.
Your question says "popular stories" and if you focus there, then no. I think they will be remembered for their film adaptations and because of the saturation. What is there to really remember about many popular stories? Many are written as though they are intended to be made into movies. Many are terrible, reflect a reading level that is just sad, and probably don't deserve to be remembered.
For those that began as great books that just happened to be adapted, not necessarily as popular but successful, I think some will remember them and hopefully appreciate them in the future. I think of examples like Angela's Ashes but it also depends on the window of time when you say "popular stories of today". Today, literally? Or just modern? Adaptations of Jane Austen or Edith Wharton or F. Scott Fitzgerald or E.M. Forster will likely not change the appreciation for the novels, which are still being read despite their film counterparts. And some novels just seem stuck as novels, in a good way. Toni Morrison, for example.
Painting the Picture - Ellen Hopkins
NY Times Bestselling Author Ellen Hopkins
I think it's unfortunate that future generations will be pushed into digital mediums because of what is happening right now, today. Reading a book, on page, not onscreen, works a part of the brain that may, in fact, become extinct within a few generations. Why do I think this is sad? Because that is the CREATIVE part of the brain.
Once future generations allow other forms of media to PAINT the story, rather than letting their brains do the coloring in, they will become dumber and dumber. The same entities encouraging this today are helping to defund education. They don't want the workforce to be creative or smart--too much competition.
My heartfelt advice is to fight back! Work the creative part of your brain. Read (print). Write! Educate yourselves every way possible that does not involve some media hack telling you what is "true." Investigate. Learn what is true. Know what? It isn't easy. But if you don't, this planet has a sorry future indeed.
My Final Thoughts
The reason I was compelled to ask others what they thought was because I wasn't sure of the answer myself. I believe in the various outlets for stories, and at heart I root for the story more than I do the form.
However, there's something to be said about written works. As Ellen Hopkins pointed out, it's far more beneficial to process a story than to have it completely spelled out for you. Film and TV tell you what to see, think, hear, and so on. There's very little room for interpretation beyond the weak subtext.
Horror stories, as an example, are much scarier in the written form than up on a screen. In this instance, they use your own fears and imagination to haunt you, whereas film and TV tries to make you afraid of someone else's nightmares. Horror novels bring out your fears and play them against, while other forms tend to focus on the pop-out scare.
An oversight on my part was merchandising. In Lynn Alexander's example of Twilight, it's easy to focus on the books and the novels, but what is sometimes left out of the equation is product. After she mentioned it, I remember seeing the lunchboxes, candy, trading cards, clothes, and many other promotions. Was the book so revolutionary it reached to such heights, or was it all a clever franchise model?
Edgar Allan Poe comes to mind now. Poe made a name for himself as a writer way before anyone adapted his stories into film or used his ideas for plots and video games. When Poe items first came to stores, I thought it was kind of cool. I liked Poe and now I could flaunt such a fact, but after awhile it became too much. It was almost as though to like Poe is akin to loving cliches. Lucky for Poe, he's already cemented in history.
Will the works of our time have the same opportunity to go down in history on merit, or will they become too much of a marketing scheme and fade away?
Since I'm left with multiple theories and no prophetic powers, I leave the question with you. How do you think the constant media saturation of novels will affect they way they will be remembered in the future?
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I think he is wrong. To compare the novel vehicle to Latin seems a bit exaggerated, if not completely pessimistic. Day after day, I hear people discussing how the novel is a dying breed. That print is going to die out. How people do not have the concentration to focus on something 400-pages long.
I wonder what is actually being considered a novel. For many new authors, their works are coming out in the electronic form first. This derived from music trend with iTunes. Many new bands have their music tested before their work goes to the CD form. Likewise, many independent publishers want to test the waters in the eBook form when they take a gamble with a new author. In a failing economic situation, the aforementioned only makes sense. Perhaps what we hate most about the world is when it makes sense.
Phil Roth just does not consider enough. I think novels are still in, but people are reading different things. Flash fiction has taken off because you can read it anywhere on, say, a cell phone.
About two years ago, I did not think eBooks were going to catch on, but then I changed my mind the minute I used an Amazon Kindle and a Barnes and Noble Nook. Just using the devices made me believe that novels still had room in the future. There is something new and pleasing to the eye about eReaders. And besides, are eBooks not books too? Check this.
I guess Roth addresses the idea of the print versus the electronic book, more than whether or not novels will exist. I do not believe that the novel takes any one form, such as print or digital. It is more about the style of storytelling, the involvement with emotional depth, character development, and plot. There are so many things I am not even mentioning here. Point being: the novel will always exist in some form.
Assume Roth is correct about attention spans today. The novel just needs to evolve. Several authors have started embracing multimedia forms. For instance, a novel might leave a star next to a particular passage. Well, one gets online to the author's website and finds out that there is a video or another story to correspond with the book. Roth also hints that he does not believe eBooks will be the future.
A good way to determine what is working in the market, is to look at some of the most successful authors and see what they are doing. What's that? Stephen King and Dean Koontz just finished novels available exclusively in the eBook form? Interesting.
Another point about eBooks, if you will. Technology and writing have always intertwined. Authors like Kerouac tried adhering pages of paper together in order to cut down stalling time. It took a lot of time to reset a page in a type writer. Then there was the word processor. Now there is the digital age. Hell, in the future books might come in the form of neurological implants. Robots might read our children bedtime stories from their hard-drives. Writing always moves with technology. The novel will just take an new form.
Back to attention spans. (Sorry,I just cannot focus on anything for more than three seconds, right?) My generation cannot handle writing novels, let alone reading them. One word: Excluded.
If Roth doesn't believe we have the attention spans, then he should have suggested something much different. Why can't novels be re-imagined? Make them aesthetically pleasing. Make every word count. Leave out the boring stuff. Grab the reader by the throat and force them to finish the novel.
If people aren't buying books, it's because other things are more interesting. Film, television, the Internet: all these things are far more encompassing than words on the page. Correction: the words currently on the page. Change the words. Reinvent story telling. Stop using longevity to publish droll stories. Write something interesting.
I just want to say I disagree with Roth and encourage novel writing. As a matter of fact, Roth has been complaining about the death of the novel for at least ten years now, yet he continues to write novels and does not intend to stop in the future. Doesn't that show that he is more optimistic than he leads on? Why spend so much time on such a long manuscript when in the near-future, it will not matter?
Did this blog post seem to be all over the place?
One more point before I go: I believe Roth is a great writer and fantastic leg-puller when it comes to his novels. I am in no way ridiculing his profession or his work. My dissenting opinion rests solely on his pessimism towards the novel.
Check out the guy below.
Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.