Monday, April 14, 2014

Eye Bytes

An article in The Washington Post about the rise of the digital culture altering our reading habits and our brains recently got my attention, and not in a good way. Mostly because I recognized myself as the person they were talking about.

According to the article, the average adult spends five hours a day on the internet now. For some of us it might even be a little more (hello Alex J. Cavanaugh and your hundred blog stops a day). To cope with the avalanche of available data we skim and scan, searching for the key words that will feed us the information we need in the smallest, quickest "eye-bytes" available. Then we move to the next article, the next e-mail, and on to Twitter and Facebook.

The internet, with its photos, videos, ads, and links is apparently teaching us to read in non-linear fashion. The eye darts from one shiny object to another, seeking out what's important. The problem starts when we attempt a more devoted form of reading, as with a novel. We find our brains are still so busy flashing and blinking inside from all the stimulation of the internet and the nimble eye-dancing it requires that it becomes difficult to slow down and concentrate on long, meaningful, linear sentences.

Even the people who study this stuff aren't immune. Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist, noticed the change when she sat down to read a novel after being online all day.

'I’m not kidding: I couldn’t do it,”' she said. '“It was torture getting through the first page. I couldn’t force myself to slow down so that I wasn’t skimming, picking out key words, organizing my eye movements to generate the most information at the highest speed. I was so disgusted with myself.”'
I have noticed this difficulty myself after a day of being actively online. As a Digital Immigrant, someone old enough to remember a time before the internet, I used to enjoy reading books for hours. A hundred pages a day was heaven. I can't do that anymore. Some days my mind is too restless to read more than twenty pages at a time. Not when I've got the internet I.V. hooked up and ready to deliver a dose of instant crack data to my brain. Not when there are cat photos! Memes! And Vlog brothers videos that must be shared! Gah, what's happened to us? And what does it mean for the future of the novel and its readership? 

Ironically, I know I need to keep this post short because so many of you are speeding by as you participate in the A to Z challenge. I understand you don't have time for a long read, but I would encourage you to bookmark the article and check it out when you do have time. Any effect on reading habits in the future is going to impact authors so it's worth a gander, a glance, or even an in-depth review.

Have you noticed your reading habits changing as a result of the internet? Are you skimming more than you used to? Did you notice I highlighted the question in bold so your eye wouldn't skip over it? :P

Creative Commons photo by Mike Licht

Friday, April 11, 2014

Reality Check

In case you missed this on Twitter last week:

<< The fashion world's take on how the novelist ought to dress.

<< Reality… 

On a good day.

Oh, and if you also need help knowing how to become a writer, not just dress the part, there's this fun game of chance via the LA Times that will explain it all to you. 

Have a great (and comfy) weekend. Write lots. 

Elle magazine photo by Sharon Pelletier shared via Twitter
Pajamas can be found at Cafe Press

Monday, April 7, 2014

What's Love Got To Do With It?

The Kiss by Francesco Hayez (1859)
I'm re-reading one of my favorite novels for, um, maybe the fourth or fifth time. Let's see, I own Outlander in mass market paperback (falling apart now), a newer paperback, anniversary edition hardback, and a Kindle version. Did I mention it's a favorite?  It's part historical fiction, part sci-fi adventure, but I'd call the overriding genre romance. At its heart it's a love story.

And yet…if the love story never entered into it, I believe I would still be interested in the world of this novel and the consequences for the characters as they head toward the disaster at Culloden. I may, however, be in the minority on that.

It seems you cannot pick up a modern novel without finding a romantic storyline within. But most especially if it is written by a woman. Obviously love is part of the human experience. It's the thing we long for most while we're alive. And yet…

Something I've grown curious about is whether or not women authors can write breakout novels without including romance as part of the storyline. Has it become the greatest expectation of women writers that they include a love story (or dreaded love triangle) in order to satisfy the reader? Or to perhaps satisfy some other expectation about gender roles? Or is romance simply what women prefer to read and write?

I ask because I don't think I would necessarily include romance in my adult novels if I didn't feel some sort of expectation to do so. It's certainly not my forté to write about love. And don't even ask me how difficult it is to write a sex scene (gah! which in my case end up being mostly of the fade-to-black variety). I much prefer to write a good bloody battle scene and some high stakes adventure. But, well, as a woman writer I don't think I'd get very far without including a love story amidst the mayhem.

Here's a quick and dirty comparison of the most successful authors of all time (in total books sold), which reveals some surface differences in the content between male and female works.

Most Successful Female Authors and their Genre:

Agatha Christie  --  Whodunits

Barbara Cartland -- Romance

Danielle Steele  --  Romance

Enid Blyton  -- Children's books

J.K. Rowling -- Children's Fantasy (but there's even a little romantic tension in Harry Potter, right?)

Jackie Collins  --  Romance

Corin Telado  --  Romance

Janet Dailey  --  Romance

Nora Roberts  --  Romance

Most Successful Male Authors and their Genre:

William Shakespeare  --  Poetry and Plays. Whatever, he can write what he wants. :P

Harold Robbins  --  Adventure

Georges Simenon  --  Detective Stories

Sydney Sheldon  --  Suspense

Dr. Seuss  --  Children's books

Gilbert Patten  --  Adolescent Adventure

Leo Tolstoy  --  Literary with romantic elements

Horatio Alger, Jr.  --  Rags to Riches stories

R. L. Stein  --  Children's Horror/Comedy

Dean Koontz  --  Horror

Stephen King  --  Horror

It's rather apparent women authors get the most traction out of love stories. Men, on the other hand, are cleaning up on "fight or flight" type stories. Go figure.

So here's my theory on women and romance: We don't universally fantasize about being a spaceship commander or going on a death-defying adventure at sea. We don't all secretly wish we could travel through a wormhole or lead an army to victory. But I believe we do all fantasize about true love, in whatever form it takes. That, methinks, is why it's important in fiction, and why this female writer, despite her aversion to expectations, is willing to suffer through the slings and arrows of outrageous love antics in her stories. :)

Do you think there is a higher expectation for women writers to include love and romance in their stories? Is it demanded of male writers too? Or am I being overly simplistic? What say you?


Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Music Muse

I never used to pay much attention when people created song lists to go with their novels. And I'm not one to listen to music while I write. If I had my druthers, I'd write from inside a sensory deprivation tank. I prefer absolute quiet when I'm trying to think.

BUT I do like to listen to music before I write. Certain songs can get me in the right headspace to write particularly emotional scenes. Yet It wasn't until I rediscovered The Mummer's Dance, by Loreena McKennitt, that I understood how a song could totally encompass the mood of a novel. I mean the entire thing, like a theme song. I know! Color me converted. I may have damaged the play button on my iPod by listening to this song over and over before my writing sessions the last three months. It really got me through those final battle scenes and on to the denouement.

You don't have to listen to it. It's obviously going to resonate mostly with me as the author, and not necessarily for the lyrics, but I thought I'd share just to give you a hint of what I feel is the vibe of my novels.

Do you do this? Does your current project have a "theme" song you listen to to get in that magical headspace to write? If so, watcha listening to?

And for those venturing into the land of the A to Z Challenge next month, good luck.

Have a great weekend.

*creative commons photo by Jaimie


Monday, March 24, 2014

Writer Beware, Writer Be Good

Copyright infringement is an area of concern that came up while writing the ending to my current novel. The story takes place hundreds of years in the future, a time when pre-war books and technology are outlawed. Of course, that doesn't sit well with my protagonist and her allies. As rebels, they've hoarded old books, and occasionally reproduced them to sell on the black market. So the books from our time are still part of their world, and my girl sometimes quotes lines from them.

I've mostly stuck to works in the public domain when quoting. No surprise, Shakespeare gets a mention, as do Walt Whitman and a few others. It's the Ray Bradbury quote I want to use that is at issue. Fahrenheit 451, from which I desperately want to quote twenty words, is still protected by copyright.

So…there are a few things I can do. I can paraphrase or merely allude to the work and not quote at all, (which I've done with a few songs). I can ask for permission from the owner of the copyright and quote directly, or quote the lines without permission and defend myself via the fair use argument if I'm challenged in court. Fair use, however, generally does not apply to works of a commercial nature such as novels.

Then again, sometimes it does, depending on the quantity and quality of the words borrowed. Sigh.

Copyright law is a confusing underworld of double secret agents words dressed up as your frenemy. Their sole purpose seems to be to make you so uncertain of your standing as a copyright infringer you run away screaming, abandoning all hope of quoting anyone ever again in a public forum.

But since this is something that could be an issue for most writers, whether in our creative works or on the blogs, it's worth getting familiar with the language. One of the better articles I found for authors on copyright infringement is this one at Jane Friedman's site.  It highlights the messy nature of interpreting what is and isn't a violation of copyright protection. Worth a read.

I'm curious, too, if copyright infringement could become an issue with the rising number of Independent publishers who have to act as their own legal department. So many writers are tempted to include an epigraph at the beginning of a novel or chapter heading, thinking it's a harmless homage to the original work. But if the work we're borrowing from isn't in the public domain, it could get us into trouble, without securing permission from the copyright holder first.

Song lyrics and poetry are even more difficult to use for commercial purposes. Mostly because they are shorter works and borrowing from those not in the public domain has the potential to "deprive the original owner of the commercial value of their work," according to intellectual property attorney Howard G. Zaharoff.  And borrowing lyrics to use in a novel is often not just a matter of getting permission but usually paying a fee as well. And I'm told songs don't come cheap.

So…writer beware, writer be good. Get permission first.

Ever tempted to include quotes from other works in your novel? Or song lyrics and poems? I think most of us are okay using quotes on the blogs under the Fair Use doctrine, as long as we give credit and/or link to original articles. And, yes, that's a Creative Commons photo up there. :)

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Maria Elena