Saturday, August 22, 2015

Friday, August 21, 2015

"3 Things Your Novel’s Narrator Needs to Accomplish" originally posted by John Mauk on

So what particular elements convince us? How does a story compete with the real world and all of its lures: air, cell phones, family crises, food, and drink? For me, it all comes down to the narrator, to the storytelling voice. Narrators don’t simply say what happened. They create a reality, a world that readers believe, keep on believing, and want to keep believing. Whether first, second, or third-person, good narrators make fictive worlds real, which takes a lot of persuasive power—more than all the politicians in Congress. And while the list of persuasive elements is long, here are three small but crucial moves, things that narrators do when they most successfully convince us:
Create Memory: Most people, on most days, wake up in the same room, with the same insufficient hairdo, wearing or staring at the same clothes. We see the same stuff and forget to ask, “Am I still me? Is the world still here?” Memory is a persuasive force on consciousness—a reflex that keeps convincing us of this reality. Narrators get to use that force. They get to create and then call on memory. They establish a detail (the way a family cat limps or the fact that Melissa spilled a full cappuccino in her Toyota Corolla last Tuesday) and then bring that detail back at some later point: there’s Limpy the cat again and that milk has created a serious funk now that it’s a week old. Each time the cat walks through the house, every time that dead milk smell wafts up from the floor, readers nod along. They are comforted by what they already know and reminded that they belong here in this world.
Create Horizon: Every reality has a place where vision stops, where the walls, mountains, trees, or curvature of the Earth won’t let us see further. The basic feeling of location comes only because we can’t see everything at once. The same goes for readers. If they are to belong, they need horizon, a way to distinguishhere from everywhere else. There are countless ways to make this happen—a small stream of facts that murmurs of faraway business, a finger of smoke, something we see in the distance, anything that lets us know that a factory is churning, that a reactor is reacting. The most stunning and explicit version of this—at least in my mind—is Love in the Time of Cholera. Even the title suggests the up-close and the faraway. In the story, the narrator occasionally reminds us of some distant affairs—national turmoil, sickness, and brutality writ large. And those affairs occasionally haunt the immediate.
Sometimes, horizon is crucial to the narrative tension—to the way we feel while drifting with Huck and Jim, romping with Ennis Delmar and Jack Twist, or romanticizing AntonĂ­a. The narrators in these stories create horizon differently, but it’s there and it’s crucial each time. Scenes are often imbued with a sense of up-close and faraway—in other words, space. And without space, there is no reality.
I should, though, admit that this might get dangerous. A clumsy or self-involved narrator can abandon the main characters in favor of abstract exposition. But horizon doesn’t require lengthy passages. It needs only a quick turn of the head, a brief glance into the distance, or a squint over someone’s shoulder. If characters are like people, they’ll look up from their own laps—even their own cell phones—often enough to remember what’s out there.
Disclose All: The best narrators tell all. They say so much right out of the gate (in the first five pages, for instance) that they establish an agreement with readers: if you stay with me, I’ll tell you everything as soon as I know or remember. That’s an attractive promise. Consider how Annie Proulx’s narrator in TheShipping News heaves so much at us, how that torrent of facts about Quoyle’s sloppy life comes rushing out in a few pages. The sheer volume and intensity of terrible stuff demands acceptance.
Of course, we have to acknowledge the unreliable narrator, the voice that’s intentionally holding back or shifting facts for personal gain. But I stand by the notion that the promise still gets made. Whether or not the narrator keeps it is another compelling matter.
In closing, I’ll admit: these three strategies can be characterized as artistic rather than rhetorical. But that nasty old distinction doesn’t help us. In fact, I believe it hurts fiction writers and poets alike. When I imagine my narrators as persuaders, they develop voices of their own. They get real. In short, there’s much to be gained when we see our narrators as the ultimate rhetoricians, when we make cuts, additions, and tweaks based on the single most important goal: to create a coherent reality, one more solid and factual than all the news and history channels can conjure.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

If you're surfing the web right now...

"Up From The Ashes, A Public Library In Sri Lanka Welcomes New Readers" originally posted by Julie Mccarthy on

The Jaffna Public Library, destroyed in 1981 and rebuilt twice since, once sat in a no man's land between warring forces. It's been fully restored and become a haven for readers young and old.
The Jaffna Public Library, destroyed in 1981 and rebuilt twice since, once sat in a no man's land between warring forces. It's been fully restored and become a haven for readers young and old.
Julie McCarthy/NPR
Rising two stories and capped by three domes, the Jaffna Public Library looks a bit like a stately wedding cake. Gleaming white under the Sri Lanka sun, the building's classical lines and beautiful proportions make it one of the architectural standouts of the South Asia region.
That it survived at all is a testament to resilience. The fact that it was restored to such pristine condition, including its lush gardens, and modernized (it now offers Wi-Fi) makes it all the more remarkable.
The library's renovation is as exquisite as its history is turbulent. The building sits in the heart of the provincial capital that was wracked not so long ago by battles and bullets.
A three-decade civil war pitted Sri Lankan forces against rebels fighting a brutal campaign for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils. The rebels, known as Tamil Tigers, were crushed in 2009, in the closing months of the fighting.
Incinerated History
At the library's front entrance, a statue of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, beckons visitors inside.
Past the lobby, on the left, oversized teak windows frame an airy reading room that pulls in an Indian Ocean breeze and patrons who pack the place on Sunday afternoons.
Perhaps it's not unexpected in a country with a 92 percent literary rate.
This framed picture depicts the library in 1981, after it was destroyed in a fire that Sri Lankan Tamils suspect was set by government police.
This framed picture depicts the library in 1981, after it was destroyed in a fire that Sri Lankan Tamils suspect was set by government police.
Julie McCarthy/NPR
Looking at the library today, you wouldn't know that this landmark was gutted in a mysterious fire in 1981.
"It was completely destroyed. And at that time, nobody knows who was inside the library," says S. Thanabaalasinham, the retired chief librarian. He says six rooms full of material — 97,000 volumes — were turned to ash.
S. Thanabaalasinham, the library's retired chief librarian, says 97,000 volumes were lost when the library was destroyed in 1981.
S. Thanabaalasinham, the library's retired chief librarian, says 97,000 volumes were lost when the library was destroyed in 1981.
Julie McCarthy/NPR
"The history of the Tamil people" was incinerated, he says, including "valuable books of Hindu philosophers, irreplaceable ancient texts, scrolls written on palm leaves," as they had been for centuries. Previously, these works had been housed in Hindu temples, which in some ways served as the precursor to libraries on the island.
Sri Lanka's mainly Hindu Tamil minority suspects that police from the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese majority set the 1981 library fire. It foreshadowed the bigger conflict to come between the government and the Tamil Tigers.
With donations from well-wishers around the world, the library was fully renovated in 1984.
But within a year, Jaffna was engulfed in the civil war. With the newly refurbished library at ground zero, shells careened over the roof. Thanabaalasinham says it wasn't long before the building was assaulted head-on, targeted because Tamil insurgents took up residence "in what was left of the lending room."
"It became the place where the rebels billeted themselves," he says.
From No Man's Land To New Beginning
They operated just yards from where the government forces were stationed in an old Dutch fort that sits along the coast.
"The un-man zone," the former librarian calls it.
It would remain a no man's land through much of the 1990s, when fighting intensified and civilian casualties in the war climbed into the thousands.
In 1990, Thanabaalasinham, who had studied at the Jaffna library as a young man, returned as its librarian. With the main building shuttered, he struggled to fill the gap by setting up five smaller branches around the city.
Burned, rebuilt and then bombed into ruins, the main library improbably rose again a second time. Beginning in 2000, blackened floors were hauled away and gutted rooms repaired in a $1 million face-lift, financed by the central government and international donors.
When political rivals could not decide on the size of the reinauguration, Thanabaalasinham took matters into his own hands and personally threw open the doors in February 2004.
Library patrons fill the main reading room on Sundays.
Library patrons fill the main reading room on Sundays.
Julie McCarthy/NPR
"The students came every day to the gate and said, 'We need to get in; we have exams coming up and we need to study,' " recalls the 67-year old public servant.
According to the National Library of Sri Lanka, there are some 1,135 public libraries for the country's 20 million citizens. A small municipality can house its modest collection in the town hall. The country's only two major libraries are the Colombo Public Library, in the capital, and the library in Jaffna.
Today, Jaffna's shelves groan under the weight of books on computer science and mathematics, along with best-sellers from Peter Wright's Spycatcher to Bill Bryson's Made in America.
The library once at the heart of so much turmoil teems today with the young and the old. Fifteen and wide-eyed, Shareeq Ahmed marvels at the historical collection. "I got to see what happened on the day I was born," he says. "I've never seen a library like this."
Shareeq is too young to remember much of the war years. But for another patron, 75-year-old Rajenthiran Selvanayagam, spending time at the library is a peaceful contrast to that era. He lost his wife to the war. His son went mad.
Selvanayagam visits the library three times a week. "Having a book in my hand," he says, "is more than meditation to me."

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Overcoming Writer's Block" by E. M. Jerkins

Writer’s block is something that every seasoned writer has experienced and every novice writer has to look forward to. While there is no general cure for the mental affliction, I can share what usually works for me when my mind draws blanks on a current project. What I tend to do is switch what I’m working on.

As a fiction writer I am always imagining ideas for book or short story plots. In the middle of novel writing, when the block sets in, I instantly move into a totally different story line. I do that because writer’s block, to me, feels like I’m stuck…limited so to speak. So by transitioning to a different script, I liberate my mind to think beyond the realm of what I was originally writing when writer’s block hit me.

Eventually, as I work on an alternate piece, something will come to mind concerning my previous endeavor and I will be able to apply it. At that point I’ve not only overcome writer’s block, but I’ve also started or continued progress on something else. This means that there’s never any unproductive downtime spent wracking a brain that temporarily doesn’t have any more ideas in it.

Of course when you are on a deadline this tactic may not be the best one, however for those who write fiction continuously this hint may be the best approach to defeating the nemesis known as writer’s block. 

A little literary boost!

You Know You're a Writer When...

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"Do I Really Need a Print Version of My Book?"

Book Genres, by E-Book or Print Book Preference
Book Genres, by E-Book or Print Book Preference
In a word, yes. Market share varies by genre, but this market share data from the book category called "trade publishing," where most self-published authors introduce books, should help you decide:
  • Print books account for approximately 70% of all books sold
  • Amazon sells 64% of all print books that are sold online
  • Amazon sells 67% of all ebooks (all online, of course)
  • Amazon sells 41% of all books sold, online or offline
  • Amazon sells 65% of all ebooks and print books that are sold online
One conclusion you can draw from this market share data is that readers generally prefer to purchase print books--and that Amazon sells the most print books of any online retailer. So if you were to decide to place the print on demand (POD) version of your book in only one store, you should place it in Amazon (via Createspace). Placing your POD book in the Amazon store gets you exposure to the biggest group of print book buyers assembled in one place.
But wait--another important consideration is whether YOUR readers prefer to purchase the ebook or print version of your book. Here, the answer isn't so clear. Readers of certain genres indicate that they prefer to buy ebooks rather than print books, but this isn't the case for all genres. This graph, from a DBW article on the most recent industry study, illustrates readers' preferences by genre:
Book Genres, by E-Book or Print Book Preference

Looking at these results leads you to the reasonable conclusion that for many genres, POD isn't a must-have. If you write in one of the top five genres in this list, POD may be a small market for you.
However, we believe that after your ebook has been out for a while, and you're certain that it is text-complete, with no further edits needed, it's still a good idea to bring out a POD version for a number of reasons.
Having a POD version of your book will:
  1. Make your book look professionally published on your Amazon sales page
  2. Give you access to online purchasers who prefer print editions
  3. Expose more potential reviewers to your book
  4. Make your book available to order in most physical bookstores
  5. Make it easy to order copies to sell at events
  6. Give you an inexpensive option for obtaining a printed copy of your book for your personal bookshelf
Have you created a POD version of your book? If not, why not?