Eighteen Views Suffice

View of Mt. Fuji, originally uploaded by bradipo.

Jackie and her mom and I went to the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s exhibit of Utagawa Hiroshige’s “36 views of Mt. Fuji.” This was part 2 of the exhibit, and featured 18 of the woodcuts.

I’ve always liked the Japanese woodcuts of this era, for much the same reason that I like poster art: I like the use of strong, simple images and the effective use of a limited color pallet. (I also rather like the particular shade of blue that they used.)

Besides the woodcuts, we also spent a chunk of time in an exhibit on drawings together with prints, etchings, and the like. Some were source drawings prepared for the engraver. Others were copies of etchings, drawn as studies. I find it interesting to think about the differences between poster art and woodcuts, versus etching, engravings, and so on—differences in intention, technology, result, etc.

We also walked a bit on the grounds. I particularly enjoyed the tow path along the canal behind the museum.

This was just our second visit to the museum, which is too bad—it’s a great museum. It’s more than 2 hours away, though, which makes for a rather long day. We enjoyed it enough that we’re thinking about getting a room in a hotel and making a 2-day trip of it. That would mean that we could spend a whole day (or two half-days) at the museum, instead of trying to cram everything into a few hours between two long drives.

Paŭzo en la stacidomo Union

My first Esperanto-language short story “Paŭzo en la stacidomo Union,” appears in the new issue of Beletra Almanako!

Kovrilo de Beletra Almanako N-ro 8.My first Esperanto-language short story “Paŭzo en la stacidomo Union,” appears in the new issue of Beletra Almanako! My contributor’s copy arrived today. I even made the cover.

I am in very good company—a veritable who’s who of current Esperanto literature.

“Tiu,” Emma diris

Otto rigardis kien ŝi kapmontris. “Tiu alta viro en la drelika jako?” Li pripensis. “Filo de riĉaj gepatroj. Eksigita el pli ol unu universitato pro tro da petoloj kaj maltro da studoj. Ricevas iom da mono de la patrino, sed ne sufiĉe por vivteni sin.”

You can get it from Amazon: Beletra Almanako 8 (BA8 – Literaturo en Esperanto) (Esperanto Edition)

Or directly from the publisher.

If you can read Esperanto, pick up a copy today!

Cool Scrivener feature: show stamps

Tobias Buckell’s recent post on chapters was not only interesting in its own right. It also brought me to Scott Westerfeld’s valuable post on pace charts. Even more cool, though was a tidbit in a comment on that post, with details on a cool feature of Scrivener: You can show stamps on the note cards!

Scott’s example involved marking the note cards to indicate what sort of tension was driving each scene. With that information he could see if there were long stretches without an action scene (or if his action scenes started falling too much into a simple rhythm). That gave him useful information for adjusting the pacing—keeping things moving, mixing things up, etc.

I’m going to be using this all the time now. For example, the story I workshopped last month is both a heist story and a love story. This feature gives me a way to mark the scenes so that I can see which aspect of the story is being advanced and then view that aspect of all the scenes:

Screen capture of Scrivener corkboard
Scrivener corkboard

I was completely unaware of this feature, even though I use Scrivener all the time, so I thought I’d spell out how to do it.

  1. Make sure that the “Inspector” is being displayed.
  2. In the Inspector under “General” find the “Status” pop-up menu and select “Edit.”
  3. Add whatever status items you’ll need.
  4. Go through your scenes, setting each Status as appropriate.
  5. In the Menu select “View->Index Cards->Show Stamps.”

It was step 5 that I was completely unaware of. That’s what causes the diagonal overprinting of the status to be shown across the cards.

I can see using this a dozen different ways to illuminate the story structure.

First meeting of the incognito writers group

A few of us here in Champaign-Urbana are trying to get a local writers group going again. Caleb Wilson, Kelly Searsmith, Charlie Petit, and I got together last night at the Urbana Library for the new group’s first meeting.

I had suggested that we might want to talk about a name for the group, simply because I knew I would want to post about it and thought it would be handy to be able to call it something, but everybody else seemed to want to go straight to the critiquing. Kelly suggested that the group could remain incognito for the time being. That was good enough for me—I’ll just call it the incognito writers group until we decide we need a better name. [Update: I’ve created a page for the Incognito Writers Group.]

It’s really nice to have a local writers group again. The actual writing part of being a writer is such a solitary activity, it’s worth making the effort to generate some amount of actual interpersonal contact. And we’ve got an excellent selection of writers: three Clarion grads and an intellectual property lawyer. (I’ll resist making a James Watt joke.)

It’s a real boost to be around people who understand what it’s like to write fiction—people who understand the rush that comes from getting a bit of dialog just right (and the anguish from trying and failing), the absorbing intensity of world-building, the stoicism needed to keep persisting in the face of rejection. When those people also understand crafting a good story, writing vivid prose, and developing compelling characters, so much the better.

One other thing we didn’t talk about was opening the membership up to other people, but I suspect the group would be even better with a couple more people. If you live in Champaign-Urbana (or close enough to attend monthly meetings), write some variety of speculative fiction,  can demonstrate a seriousness of purpose (regularly submitting stories to markets, attending well-regarded workshops, etc.), and you’d be interested in joining, see the Incognito Writers Group page.

Open Source Fiction?

Frank Gilroy, a guy I used to work with at Motorola, has written a post called My Thoughts on Open Source Story Telling about why he’s putting his fiction up on the web. I had a few thoughts on the topic that I would have shared in a comment, except that he’s got comments turned off. So, instead here’s the long version.

To begin with, fiction was always “open source” in the sense that you can’t keep the text secret from the reader. In this way it is unlike software (where you can keep the source code secret from the people running the program). Because of this, in software “open source” was an important (and somewhat transgressive) notion. In fiction, though, it’s just the way things have always been.

Since fiction has always been open source, stories have always been pieces of a greater conversation. Some explicitly respond to other stories, but even the ones that don’t are informed by what the author has read. At least as important, the readers’ reactions are informed by what they’ve read, whether or not the writer has read the same things.

It’s rare in fiction for writers to do what’s common in open source software—use their access to the source to improve it (fix bugs, add functionality, improve standards compliance, and so on). But the reason has nothing to do with a lack of access to the text.

Putting that issue aside, the remaining issues seem to be money (how does the writer get paid) and access (how does the reader find the work).

Money

In software, the open source model offers a revenue stream for providing support. Is there an equivalent for open source fiction? Perhaps one could say that some professors of English and literature do, in a sense, get paid to support the readers of open-source literature. But I don’t see a business model forming around the idea that a writer would publish his stories free on the web and then charge a fee to explain them.

Why do people ever pay for fiction? They pay to be entertained, to be edified, to be amused, and so on, but I think the root value that they’re paying for is novelty. People will pay for access to new fiction (that they’re confident that they’ll enjoy) and there are revenue streams built around the fact that people will perceive access to new fiction (that they expect to enjoy) as being of value. (Advertising being the most obvious.)

Putting a story up on the web can only hurt its novelty value. It may be worth doing for other reasons (in particular, if you’re getting paid for it), but a piece of fiction is only new to a reader once.

Writers are as happy as anyone else to get paid, but they’re also motivated by other things. In particular, they want their work to be read: They want to be part of the great conversation that is literature—or at least part of some tiny piece of that conversation. This, I think, is the reason that so many writers are tempted to post their fiction: it means that the whole world has access.

Access

It might seem like putting your fiction up on the web would maximum the chance that it would be read, but that’s very much not true.

Fiction is different from nonfiction, where a brief glance can give the reader an pretty good sense as to whether or not a piece is worth reading. Fiction needs to be read from the beginning. Good fiction often produces temporary feelings of frustration or confusion and then resolves those feelings in a satisfying way. But there’s plenty of bad fiction that produces frustration or confusion and then fails utterly to produce a satisfying resolution.

Every reader has been repeatedly unsatisfied by bad fiction. Most of them have responded by choosing not to read random pieces of fiction. Instead, they only read fiction by writers that they trust to make it worth their while, or after someone they trust vouches for it as being worth the effort.

These pieces—fiction by writers they trust, or selected by editors they trust—they’re willing to pay money for. But fiction that lacks such credentials is not only not worth money, it generally doesn’t even get read. Just offering it for free does not make it worth investing the time to read it—in fact, just the opposite. Being available on the web for free doesn’t prove that it’s not worth reading, but in the absence of a recognized by-line or an endorsement by an editor, being offered for free is a negative.

Because of that, posting a story on the internet usually means that almost no one will read it except the writer’s friends and relations. In this way it’s very different from software, and from other things that have flourished on the internet, such as music.

[In the interest of full disclosure, let me mention that my story “An Education of Scars” is currently available to read for free on the internet at Futurismic, which paid me for the right to offer it.]

My Workspace

My Workspace, originally uploaded by bradipo.

I haven’t actually been writing at my desktop for the past couple of weeks. While Steve and Daniel were visiting, we were taking our laptops to the library and using one of their “study rooms” as an office.

I’m fixin’ to get back to working here, though.

What’s here:

  • HP laser printer
  • Yamaha speakers
  • Dancing Ganesh
  • iMac
  • Iomega 1T backup drive
  • My and Jackie’s iPods
  • Picture of Jackie taken in India
  • My Clarion mug

Creative Commons License
My Workspace by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Clifty Creek

Clifty Creek, originally uploaded by bradipo.

According to some plaque I saw in Shades State Park a while back, the trees in the area that turned into the park cast such deep shade it was called “Shades of Death.” I thought this shot, taken in Pine Hills Nature Preserve, right next to Shade, captured a little something of just how dark the canopy makes the shaded areas, and how abrupt the transition is between light and dark.

It was tough to see Steve, Daniel, and Lucy off yesterday, after two weeks spent visiting, but it was nice to spend a couple hours hiking together at Pine Hills.

Creative Commons License
Clifty Creek by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.

Sale to Redstone!

Just learned that Redstone Science Fiction has accepted my story “Like a Hawk in its Gyre” for publication, probably in early 2011.

I’ve signed the contract and mailed that in already. I still need to write a bio to send along with a headshot. Until I start selling more frequently, I have the luxury of writing a new bio for each sale. (I know some writers find the bio-writing step to be daunting, but I kind of enjoy it.)

Lazy River

My mom, brother, and nephew are visiting, and at my nephew’s enthusiastic request, we all spent the afternoon at the “aquatic center” yesterday.

Getting out of the water was hard. After four or five trips around the lazy river, I’d gotten very used to floating. Putting my feet down and standing up in three-foot water was okay, but each step up the long ramp out of the water meant a little more of my weight that I had to support myself.

Jackie and I usually float together around the lazy river, and we did that this time for a couple of laps in the middle, but Jackie had sprinted off ahead for the first lap, in a hurry to float under the fountains that sprayed over the stretch just before the ramp where we’d entered. She waited there, and once I arrived we floated a couple times around together.

Maybe it’s the nature of lazy rivers; more likely it’s the nature of my family, but it seemed perfectly ordinary that we all ended up at the lazy river: Daniel having been floating in a different part of the river, but turning up near the entrance at the same time Jackie and I floated past and noticed Steve standing near the entrance.

I pointed Steve toward the corral with the tubes. Once he put his hands on one, we headed down the lazy river as a group, in direct contravention of some rule against ganging up more than two of the tubes. It was too much trouble to keep hanging onto one another, so pretty soon we were rule-abiding again.

It was the sun that got me out. Even slathered up with sunblock, an hour of floating is about all the sun I can take.

Except for the transition of the hard trudge up out of the water, the rest of the afternoon was very pleasant, even for someone who’d gotten used to floating: A place to sit in the shade, a large soda from the concession stand, and conversation with Steve and Lucy.