Category Archives: Free Culture

I am a First Amendment Fundamentalist

There’s a reason the 1st Amendment is First: it outlines the most important liberties we have.  It trumps all opinion polls and all outcries and all protests and all “community standards”.  It is the bedrock of a free society.  And sometimes in a free society you have to put up with things you don’t like.  Things you might even hate.  And yes – so do your children.

If you believe this too, you are a First Amendment Fundamentalist.  Like me.

So folks can build a Muslim community center wherever they want.  In Manhattan.  Near Ground Zero.  On Ground Zero, if they can afford the real estate.  And some minister can burn all the Qurans he wants on 9/11.  Pretty stupid way to exercise your First Amendment rights, but hey, there’s no clause in there saying you can’t be dumb.

The mural in question.

And right here at home, some artist has created a mural some are calling “grotesque” and “offensive”, especially to schoolchildren.  I call it juvenile, but that’s beside the point.  All editorial comments are.  The artist, David Marez, can put up whatever he wants on this wall, for whatever reason he wants.  He doesn’t have to justify it to anyone.  The Constitution went on ahead and took care of that for him.

The City of Scottsbluff so far is doing its job, and has not attempted to come up with some cockamamie reason to force this mural off the wall.  Good.  They best keep it up.  Let the moral crusaders for “decency” preach all they want – on their own streetfronts.

Pindeldyboz folds

Pindeldyboz published my very first published short story, “In Hiding”, back in January of 2004.  (Man, that seems like a long time ago.)  I’m still rather fond of this story, for sentimental reasons, if not aesthetic reasons.  Now comes the news that Pindeldyboz is folding.  Says Whitney Pastorek, founding editor:

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Pindeldyboz, we’ve made the decision to shut it down. At some point in the next month or so, therefore, the site will be going dark.

It wasn’t an easy decision in many ways, and in many ways it was. Over the last 10 years, we’ve published a whole lot of stuff by a whole lot of people. It’s been a blast, and we like to think we’ve been an important part of the internet online fiction community — or at least given some great voices a forum in which to shine. In return, Pboz has given us endless creative inspiration. It was something to do that existed outside the mundane tasks of our ordinary lives. It was never a full-time job, we never got paid, we never got famous. But that wasn’t ever really the point.

I’ve not included a link because, like she says, the site will soon be dark.  I have saved in my story in hmtl, though that will soon cease to matter.  I’ll be posting “In Hiding” here tomorrow, so it will have a second internet home.  Thank you, Pindeldyboz and Whitney Pastorak, for giving it a first one.

I have postulated that what you write on the internet is forever.  Supposedly everything on the internet is being permanent archived by the Wayback Machine and others.  So as long as there are digital devices, “In Hiding” will still be out there.  This infinitely accessible version is, the theory goes, a good deal better than if it had been published in some obscure literary magazine in the form of a few hundred copies moldering in dusty cardboard boxes, waiting to be pulped.  (A couple of my paper-published short stories are currently languishing in this limbo.)  I still tend to think that is true, but, you do have to ask, how many people are ever going to query the Wayback Machine for my short story?  Besides me and my mom, I mean?

It is worth noting the sea change that has taken place in these short six and a half years.  At the time, publishing on the internet was still looked down upon, was thought of as “not real”.  Now The New Yorker publishes every short story online, for free, and a new novel is considered DOA if it doesn’t have a Kindle version.  For those of us who continue to labor in obscurity, this is mostly a good thing.  It’s access, even if of a promiscuous sort.

Finally, I note that it has been something like 4 years since I had a short story published.  I was going pretty well there for a while, churning them out and placing them in various places.  Then I turned to novels.  One manuscript took me two years and, as I can now see, was a resounding failure.  I adjudge it to be so, anyway, when I can bring myself to run my eyes over its pages of portentous pretentiousness.

The second manuscript also took me two years, and the jury is out on that one.  I’m up to twenty-some rejections by literary agents but I don’t plan on giving up on this one until the rejections run into triple digits.  Maybe not even right away then.  I feel that if this is adjudged a failure, it will be by agents and their interns, not me.  And at that point, I’ll put it out there myself, probably following Marc Horne’s DIY publishing guide.  Which is progress, I hope.  In 2004 it was still pretty unthinkable, at least to me.

Point being, I haven’t published anything in a long while.  Right now, a couple things I’m working on could either be short stories, or the embryos of more novels.  I’m sort of torn.  Commit another couple years to another manuscript which may never see the light beyond the inboxes of some trusted readers and self-publishing, or aim for a short story which more than likely, will appear on a website which will soon go dark, like Pindeldyboz?

EDMD

Well, Molly Norris is a coward.  She started “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!”, (which she now dubs EDMD) but is now trying to call it off:

I did NOT ‘declare’ May 20 to be “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day.” I made a cartoon about the television show South Park being censored. I wish that was what our energies were going toward — protesting revolutionmuslim.com’s threat to Comedy Central, and Comedy Central’s over reaction to it which set America on a slippery slope toward censorship!  … My one-off cartoon does not work well as a long-term plan. The vitriol this ‘day’ has brought out, of people who only want to draw obscene images, is offensive to Muslims who did nothing to endanger our right to expression in the first place. Only Viacom and Revolution Muslim are to blame, so…draw them instead!

Right, Molly.  Hope the hypocrisy tastes better going down than it did coming up.  At least she has a sense of humor about it, posting this on her webpage (not that it excuses the sycophantic mention of her attending a Muslim Association of Puget Sound meeting, or her plastering her page with pictures of the new Miss America):

The point, though, is not to draw Mohammed.  That sort of provacateuring is best left to Southpark and various other juveniles, funny as they can sometimes be.  Righteous blasphemy is about as ubiquitous as porn on the internet. I don’t have to engage in it myself to cherish freedom of expression.  No, real problems only set in when folks cower in fear, like Molly Norris.

So, to quote Jon Stewart, to anyone who is threatening death in the name of religion or politics: go fuck yourself.  Now, let’s carry on.

Twittification update: twitter666

Following my post on the twittification of America, the estimable Brad Green kindly directed me to a “literary journal” composed entirely of tweets. There are lots. I read a few. Some are mildly amusing;

lionelritchieCD: Wait! She touched me! Oh… she was reaching for Kenny Rogers. Fuck.

some are mildly interesting;

a_gravedigger: went to hardware store to buy new gloves, clerk said-what are these for, i said, you don’t wanna know son.

some are clever-for-the-sake-of-clever:

A_BULLY: i’m a much bigger fan of the punch to the stomach than i am of the punch to the thigh

But none flirt even remotely with being “perfect little statements into gems of intent, meaning, clarity.” (My definition of a worthwhile aphorism.) Not that they’re trying to to be that. Not sure what they are trying to be. Probably they’re on to something. They just don’t know what.

Current state of twittified web-lit

Current state of twittified web-lit

Tweets have a long way to go. Not saying they won’t get there. They might. Web-lit is evolving. I’ve got great hopes for it. Humble beginnings are required. twitter666 has them in spades.

The, ahem, future?

Its future?

Whatever web-lit evolves into, these tweets will be as cave paintings to, say, Paradise Lost or Pale Fire or Proust. Or something entirely less wordy. Like waka or the prosings of the great master himself.

In any case, I’ve emailed the man evidently behind twitter666, Sam Pink, inviting him to comment. Let’s hope he puts in an appearance.

Snarkmarket's strategy

snarkmarketMore innovation in publishing: Snarkmarket sold 200 hardcover copies of its book New Liberal Arts at $8.99 a pop, after which it put a free Creative Commons-licensed PDF up for anyone and everyone. So Snarkmarket make itself a cool $1,800 (less production costs, of course) before releasing the book into infinity.

Aside from the PDF’s inherent weaknesses as e-book format, this is a pretty cool idea. The tiny press run gives value to the hardcover, certainly pays for the free PDF giveaway, and gets the interest up for the next book to be thusly released. I agree with Kevin Kelly that the content seems a little thin, but it wouldn’t have to be. Kelly adds, “I’m impressed enough with the experiment to use this model on my next self-published book.” Not bad props (though I’m a little surprised that the Editor of Wired would need to self-publish).

In any case, given that it took only eight hours for New Liberal Arts to sell out, the Snarkmarketers might want to think of printing more next time.

Anybody out there think this is a viable publishing model? If so, for what genres?

Me, I’m still looking for the perfect model for a literary novel with various pretensions, er, ambitions.

Note: This post originally appeared at TeleRead.

Snarkmarket’s strategy

snarkmarketMore innovation in publishing: Snarkmarket sold 200 hardcover copies of its book New Liberal Arts at $8.99 a pop, after which it put a free Creative Commons-licensed PDF up for anyone and everyone. So Snarkmarket make itself a cool $1,800 (less production costs, of course) before releasing the book into infinity.

Aside from the PDF’s inherent weaknesses as e-book format, this is a pretty cool idea. The tiny press run gives value to the hardcover, certainly pays for the free PDF giveaway, and gets the interest up for the next book to be thusly released. I agree with Kevin Kelly that the content seems a little thin, but it wouldn’t have to be. Kelly adds, “I’m impressed enough with the experiment to use this model on my next self-published book.” Not bad props (though I’m a little surprised that the Editor of Wired would need to self-publish).

In any case, given that it took only eight hours for New Liberal Arts to sell out, the Snarkmarketers might want to think of printing more next time.

Anybody out there think this is a viable publishing model? If so, for what genres?

Me, I’m still looking for the perfect model for a literary novel with various pretensions, er, ambitions.

Note: This post originally appeared at TeleRead.

E-book chapter mashups?

The good folks at Feedbooks are improving their publishing application programming interface (API).

Writers can now “switch to the Table of Contents (ToC) of your book while editing, to drag & drop parts/chapters/sections and re-order them the way that you want.”

Sounds very user-friendly—another online publishing option for potential authors.

But quickly reading the post the first time, I mistakenly thought Feedbooks was going to let the reader perform these in-book mashups. It got me to thinking: why not?

When a mashup will work

For novels that rely on straightforward linear progression, a mashup probably wouldn’t work. But not all novels do. The Sound and the Fury, for instance, or David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten (available as DRMed Kindlebook). Or imagine a novel written around a cluster of characters. You, the reader, follow the characters along as they intrigue you, reading the book in an order of your own choosing. (Note: I’m working on a manuscript along these lines.)

Entertainment.

Entertainment.

Hard to fathom the amount of technical work that would be required to create such a beast, both in terms of actual writing and e-book API. It would have to be done very, very well. The “hypernovels” of the 90s that I’ve seen are dismal failures, no improvement on the Choose Your Own Adventure books of my childhood, which at least had the virtue of being entertaining.

In Pale Fire, a protype for e-book mash-ups?

The only really good book I can think of written in this way is Nabokov’s masterwork Pale Fire, conceived as a commentary on a 999-line poem. The poet himself has been killed by a man who may or may not have been sent to assassinate the commentator, who may or may not be the mad exiled king of a conquered principality, which may or may not exist.

Mashup prototype?

Mashup prototype?

You can’t just read this book chapter by chapter. You have to page back and forth between poem and commentary and index. The prototype for e-book mash-ups?

Undoubtedly there are more. Italo Calvino? Maybe the original “postmodern” novel, Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy?

Possibly this would be a more effective technique for nonfiction. For instance, allowing a reader to order the chapters in a how-to book as they find them relevant. Or history books. For instance, allowing me to get to the good stuff connecting 12th-century Heian-era Kyoto to modern-day Tokyo while skipping over the hackneyed samurai derring-do in between. Bringing the sort of hop-scotching link-jumping we associate on the internet to e-books, while maintaining a semblance of chapter order.

Certainly this would be a break from reading tradition, but that’s already happening on the Internet. (How many hyperlinks have you clicked on so far?) I’m not convinced it’s necessarily a bad thing to follow your clicks down the rabbit-hole, as long as it doesn’t involve too much time watching skateboarding rabbits.

I think e-books can be a lot more than just a convenient offshoots of paper books. E-books with this sort of functionality built in would allow you to zero in on what fascinates you most. Sort of a hybrid between website and paper book. The sort of thing that could send e-books in a really radical new direction.

Note: This post originally appeared at TeleRead.

Update:  Reader Timothy suggests A Spoon River Anthology as one prospect for a mashup.  Excellent idea.  Seem to be an ideal candidate for me.

And I thought of one more: Winesburg, Ohio.  You could read this in all sorts of orders, if you were so inclined and had the e-book capability to do so.  (Of course, you could also just flip around as you pleased in a paper book.)

An ATM machine for books?

Stop the presses, as it were. The Espresso Book Machine “can print and bind books on demand in five minutes, while customers wait,” according to the Guardian. Currently it has access to 500,000 books, but the British bookseller Blackwell’s

hopes to increase this to over a million titles by the end of the summer—the equivalent of 23.6 miles of shelf space, or over 50 bookshops rolled into one. The majority of these books are currently out-of-copyright works, but Blackwell is working with publishers throughout the UK to increase access to in-copyright writings, and says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

According to maker On Demand Books, the Espresso is “in essence, an ATM for books.”

No word on how U.S. publishers have reacted, but as the Espresso is the brainstorm of American publisher Jason Epstein, my guess is we’ll find out soon. I can imagine brick-and-mortar stores won’t be hopping for joy (according to Douglas A. Mcintyre, the bookseller Borders will be gone by the end of 2009), but Amazon will lap the news up.

On Demand apparently plans to have the machines available at retail outlets in the UK. Is this really going to fly? What if there are 50 people waiting for a book? That would stretch out five-minute quite a bit. Will you have to make an appointment? Perhaps online? In that case, why bother with a retail outlet at all? Why not just order online?

I can envision a warehouse of ever-more efficient Espresso machines churning out the books 24 hours a day, new orders streaming in to be packaged up and mailed out. A warehouse of blank paper and mail clerks. Big-name authors and publishing houses see the writing on the wall and skip the entire traditional print run in favor of on-demand orders. Both eliminating a great deal of waste and leveling the publishing industry. A Netflix of books, if you will. (Meanwhile, the real Netflix is driving big-box rental outfit Blockbuster to bankruptcy.) As Julia at HarperStudio recounts, “I vividly remember an agent I respect sitting in my office a couple of years ago saying “if the Espresso takes off, publishers and editors will be dead men walking.”

Maybe. Or is this yet another business model for Amazon to swoop down on—its acquisition of Lexcycle being the latest?

Of course, if you’re really interested in getting your books quick, fast, and in a hurry (not to mention free if they’re in the public domain), you’d be making the move to e-books. It’s pure speculation on my part, but I imagine if the Espresso machine is widely adopted, a lot of people who might have moved to e-books will stick with print, particularly if “Espresso books” (to coin a phrase) become progressively cheaper. Alternatively, more people might be drawn to e-books, particularly those available with Kindle-like ease. After all, why wait five minutes when you can have a book now?

If the logistics could be worked out, this could also be a great opportunity to offer e-books alongside print books. Package deals. Buy five print books, get one e-book free, say. Opportunities abound, it seems to me.

If the Espresso Machine really does take off, will the publishing industry be agile enough to respond positively? Though their comrades in music and Hollywood don’t offer much hope, with Amazon on the prowl and e-books on the march, it’d better.

This post originally appeared at Teleread.

Who is Mark Twain?, available as (copyrighted) hardcover and ebook

There has been a decided uptick in interest in Mark Twain recently. All to the good: the great satirist deserves as large an audience as he get in this and any other time. Now HarperStudio is getting in the game with its release of Who is Mark Twain?, a collection of 24 previously unpublished essays by him.

Who is Mark Twain book cover

And if you buy the hardcover, you also receive the DRM-free e-book.

While I can’t see why anyone would buy both a hardcover edition and an e-book, if HarperStudio is giving it away and it’s DRM-free in the bargain, I don’t see how you can lose. And not just any old e-book. This one features possibly America’s greatest satirist wondering if “Jane Austen’s goal is to ‘make the reader detest her people up to the middle of the book and like them in the rest of the chapters?’” And:

Twain plasters the city with ads to promote his talk at the Cooper Union (he is terrified no one will attend). Later that day, Twain encounters two men gazing at one of his ads. One man says to the other: “Who is Mark Twain?” The other responds: “God Knows—I Don’t.”

Be sure not to miss John Lithgow reading a selection wherein it is revealed how Twain determined which manuscripts to publish, and which to burn.

image I’ve read pretty much everything Twain has written up to this point, and as a writer, I’ve taken his 19 Rules of Literary Art much to heart. I don’t usually buy hard covers, but this one comes in at a reasonable $19.99 and with the e-book to boot, I think I’ll make an exception. Maybe I can give the hardcover away …

One thing I’m very curious about: All Twain’s writings have long since passed into the public domain. So can Harper Studio hold a copyright to these 24 essays? They’re handpicked by Robert Hirst, General Editor of The Mark Twain Project at UC Berkeley, so possibly they’ve been edited. If so, does that mean they can be copyrighted?

Update:   Looks like the copyright question is answered: The Daily Beast has run an excerpt from Who is Mark Twain? with this addendum at the bottom:

Extracted from Who is Mark Twain? by Mark Twain. © 2009 With permission from the Publisher, HarperStudio.

What I want to know is, how can this be? I’ll be asking the folks at HarperStudio. We’ll see if they get back to me.

Note: This post originally appeared at TeleRead.

Savage posts poems

The poet Norman Savage, whose autobiography Junk Sick I reviewed here, has begun posting poems on his blog. You don’t want to miss them.

Some of these originally appeared in the countercultural magazine Changes, started by Susan Graham Mingus, wife of Charles Mingus. The poem “Sunday” came complete with pictures by Andy Warhol. (Unfortunately Savage is unable to upload them.) That’s all right. The poem speaks for itself. An excerpt:

SUNDAY

body repose,
mind nomadic;
constant flux even on the day
of rest. all is quiet. the rape
goes on. and on. coercing
lover over food, soft beverages
and burps of what happened
during the preceding six days.
it is boring,
with feeling.
slick, sophisticate gray-haired
news shows are on t.v. tell us
nothing. except that you can’t catch
the week on one days notice.

He’s put up eight poems so far and tells me he’s planning on putting up more. Maybe if we’re lucky we’ll soon see an e-book poetry collection.

Having just returned to the US as I have, my favorite is “No Mistake”. It’s not often a writer hits the nail smack on the head in just 14 words:

NO MISTAKE

The way back home
is not always
the easiest.
Poe’s fall
was not

Norman Savage
Coney Island
1969