The Changing Looks of Books

Once upon a time—and it wasn’t that long ago—books were pretty distinctive.

 

oh places youll go dr seuss
There were picture books for young children, often read to them, often teaching some life lesson.
wonder woman comics
[Source: IDW]
There were comic books, periodicals geared mostly for older children and teens, pretty much equal parts drawings and text. They were/are fast reads, typically 22 pages. Although all are called comics, many were action/adventure, super hero series. Advertisements abound.
harry potter sorcerers stone jk rowling
Then there were “real” books, hundreds of pages of text, complicated plots, and virtually never with pictures. (Oh, yes, I must give a nod to so-called coffee table books, in which photographs are their reason to be. Such books tend to be incredibly expensive. I don’t think their existence undermines my general point here.)

 

contract god will eisnercontract god will eisner
Graphic novels are cartoon drawings that tell a story and are published as a book. Will Eisner is typically credited with popularizing the label “graphic novel” after the publication of his book in 1978. By the mid 1980’s, the public was generally aware of that genre.
 
illuminae
 
Last week, at the beach, I was introduced to yet another emerging book format. Illuminae is bestselling science fiction that tells the story through a mix of realistic graphics, ships logs, text messages, lists of the dead, etc. Unlike cartoon drawings, these are ultra-realistic, from the use of acronyms and abbreviations right down to the occasional typo in text messages. Here are what some of those pages look like.
 
 
This format continues in two subsequent books in the series. Perhaps people are embracing the visuals. Th the very least, readers are not deterred. 
 
illuminae gemina obsidio
 
Another example of the changing looks of books is Night Film, touted as a gorgeously written, spellbinding literary thriller. 
 
night film pessl night film marisha
 
A friend read, recommended, and gifted the book to me. I haven’t read it yet, but just opening it at random I find large chunks of narrative and dialogue interspersed with realistic images representing everything from the results of on-line searches to purported magazine covers to newspaper articles.
 

castagnello drowning accidental

 
And just to add another little twist, at the end of the book one finds the following page. It begins, “If you want to continue the Night Film experience, interactive touch points buried throughout the text will unlock extra content on you smartphone or tablet.
 
night film
 
All the traditional formats of books are still out there. Cathryn Hankla’s lost places was published earlier this year and is completely in traditional text format. It is being very well-received.
 
lost places cathryn hanklalost places cathryn hankla
 
BOTTOM LINE: The visual appearance of books is evolving. I suspect it’s the massive moves in technology which allow such printing diversity. Readers have more choices than ever before. And so do writers!

Characters’ Inaction Speaks Louder Than Words

Some things seldom if ever appear on the page because they are just taken for granted. If your characters leave the house—unless you specifically say otherwise—the reader assumes they are wearing shoes and street clothes appropriate to the season, have combed their hair, had breakfast, brushed their teeth. . .  If you’ve established quirks for your characters—e.g., Sue Grafton’s detective Kinsey Millhone works out twice a day—even these individual habits or routines aren’t mentioned every time they happen. The reader assumes those actions as part of the background.

 

Consider the power of not doing the usual. Under what circumstances might a character wear the same clothes for a solid 48 hours? Does it make a difference if those clothes are pajamas? What are the implications of skipping showers, hair washing, and tooth brushing? Why might a character eat sardines and Great Northern beans straight from the can? All of these possibilities imply powerful motivation or situational constraints. Is your character held captive? Lost in Alaska? Deeply depressed?

 

Even if your characters aren’t doing what’s expected, they’re doing something. Maybe it’s computer solitaire, or a jigsaw puzzle; reading trashy novels and eating bonbons; getting knee-walking drunk; or maybe it’s only sleeping, or staring into space—but it’s something. What that something is—and the feelings that accompany it—say a great deal about your character. Is your character in survival mode? Overwhelmed? Feeling rebellious? Guilty?  Ashamed? Weak?

 

TAKEAWAY FOR WRITERS

Sometimes what a character doesn’t do is as telling as what s/he does do. Use it!

 

Characters Inaction Speaks Louder Than Words

Giving First Rights

Sometimes life gets on top of you. You aren’t dead, just buried. And accidents happen. Such was the case for me once upon a time. When two on-line journals went live nearly simultaneously, I realized that I had granted first rights to both of them. My attempt to set things right follows.

To the OxMag Editorial Staff:

I am embarrassed and extremely regretful to have to tell you that I inadvertently granted publication rights to two literary journals. On May 8, 2015, when I granted OxMag rights to my short story “Trust,” I did not recall that I had previously (on March 27) granted publication to Diverse Arts Project Journal. All I can say in my defense is that over the last several months I’ve been distracted by two surgeries, daily hospital care for a persistent non-healing wound, various other health complications, family issues, and a flurry of short story acceptances. Once I discovered my error, notifying you seemed the only honorable thing to do.

As an on-line publication, I suppose that you can—and may wish to—remove my story from this issue. Alternatively, should you choose to allow the double publication to stand, please add an appropriate footnote acknowledging the Diverse Arts Project Journal.

Again, my apologies for the error. Please let me know how you decide to handle this. And thank you for your time and efforts on my behalf.

A little more than three weeks later, I received the following response:

Thank you so much for coming forward with this issue, we appreciate it.

Because it is our policy generally to only publish previously unpublished work, we will remove your story “Trust” from our Spring 2015 issue. We did enjoy your story, and re-reading it gives us time to again appreciate why we chose to publish it initially. We encourage you to continue submitting work to OxMag, but also remind you to in the future keep us informed of the status of any simultaneous submissions. (Submittable actually has an option to withddraw stories from consideration once they’ve been accepted without you having to notify everyone.)

We wish you good health, and also congratulations on the other short story acceptances—that’s very exciting!

Avoid First Rights Blunders

There are several take-aways for writers. One, with e-publishing, this sort of error can be corrected. Unlike a print journal, where making changes of this sort would be prohibitively expensive, it’s a relatively easy fix. Two, if you screw-up—regardless of the medium—admit it. Besides easing your conscience, doing so reflects well on you. In this case, OxMag thanked me and invited future submissions. And, three, take care of the paperwork (either yourself, or through a third party). It’s much better to avoid this sort of situation than to try to repair it!


You can read “Trust” at The Diverse Arts Project

Passionate About Writing

passionate about writing
 
I’m passionate about writing because it keeps my brain working. I want my stories to be accurate and interesting, and in doing the research to make that happen, I learn new things. For example, in working on “Feeding Bella” I learned that ketamine, a veterinary anesthetic, causes hallucinations in humans; its street name is Special K. Or, again, researching the Great Depression, I learned that gasoline was ten cents a gallon and ham was ten cents a pound.
great depression gas prices
When I first retired, which I did at age fifty-two, I became depressed—much to my surprise. I‘d looked forward to more time for cooking and gardening. But filling my life with things I used to get done evenings and weekends felt hollow. And I hated to keep introducing myself by what I used to do—as in, “I’m a retired vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty.” Before retirement, I hadn’t realized the extent to which my identity, and my friendships, were tied to my work life.

 

For me, writing has replaced my former career. It engages many skills—especially research skills—from my academic past and it’s enlarged my social circle. I’ve never met a dull, boring writer.
passionate about writing
I always excelled academically. Now getting a story published is like getting an A on my report card; books are like making the dean’s list or Phi Beta Kappa.

 

My writing brings in very little income, so thank goodness I don’t write to put food on the table. Instead, writing fuels my imagination.

 

I’ve always written. In high school it was plays for the student body, poems for my boyfriend, the junior class prophesy and the senior class will. In college I tested out of composition and so had only course-specific instruction, such as how to write research reports. From then through my twenty-seven year career, I wrote academic tomes.

 

passionate about writing
Now I write fiction, and with fiction, anything is possible. I’ve dabbled in historical fiction, mysteries, fantasy, magical realism, memoir, and memoir-based fiction. I’m passionate about writing because it can take me anywhere, real or imagined.

 

I’m passionate about writing because it’s cheaper than therapy and just as effective when dealing with depression. My most recent depression descended in 2014-2015 during my bout with breast cancer that put me under the thumb of the medical establishment for twelve months, frequently getting treatment five days a week. From that experience I published “Beast and the Beauty” (magical realism), “Art Heals” and “Repair or Redecorate after Breast Surgery” (two personal essays about reclaiming my body via tattoos), and “Hindsight” (an essay on how my experience changed my perspective on my years with an invalid mother). Writing allows me to know myself and others in new ways.

 

passionate about writing
BOTTOM LINE: Writing is my passion because it’s my lifeline.

Tools of the Trade

vivian lawry typewriter tools trade
I recently wrote about smart phones as writing tools. Today I’m writing about tools at the other end of the spectrum.

 

In my high school, Mrs. Echard taught all typing and shorthand classes. College-bound students were guided toward the Personal Typing class. It was the only class that was regularly half male! In this class, one learned to write personal and business letters, but also to compose at the typewriter.

 

I can see her now—brown hair, brown skirt-suit and heels, white blouse—modeling proper business attire. And I can hear her saying, “Always write your first draft at the typewriter. Triple space it, so you have room to edit and add notes. Don’t worry about typing errors, given that it’s only a draft. No matter how slowly you type, it is still faster than hand writing.”
vivian lawry
So there we sat, at individual oak desks in even rows, in good typing posture (i.e., feet flat on the floor). A Remington manual typewriter sat centered on the desk, stacks of paper and carbons off to the sides. Two of these typewriters would have been on the ark, had Noah taken objects.

 

All were black with gold lettered Remington on the front. The ribbon spooled from left to right, black on top and red on the bottom. Changing said ribbons was a messy, bumbling business.
vivian lawry typewriter
The keys were arrayed in a fan-like shape and the biggest hassle was hitting two keys at once, causing them to jam at the platen, requiring manual separation—also a messy business.
typewriter tools trade
The keys were round buttons, black on white or white on black, of all letters and symbols—including a symbol for cents, no longer standard on keyboards today. The shift key was also labeled Freedom.
tools trade
Being manual, the pressure on the keys was reflected in the lettering. All fingers not being equally strong, the end product often looked like this.

 

tools trade
Editing back then was literally cut and paste, then retyping the rearranged text. Moving a paragraph—or even a sentence—meant retyping and entire page or maybe more.

 

Correcting a spelling error meant using a round rubber wheel with an attached brush. This is such an ancient artifact now that sculpures of them are in museums and gardens.

 

That was a time when making copies meant typing carbons. Each page and carbon had to be corrected separately—and heaven forbid one erased a hole in the paper.

 

I learned Mrs. Echard’s lesson well. I never after hand-wrote a draft, or much of anything else. By now, I find it difficult to hand-write a thank you note!

 

BOTTOM LINE: not that long ago, writing was a very slow, laborious activity.  I marvel that anything got written at all.