Monday, July 03, 2006

Monday morning

Creative Commons conference

On Friday last the New York Times carried a report of a conference involving more or less anyone who is interested in the Creative Commons concept. (Registration required at the NYT, but painless.)

If you're not yet familiar with the Creative Commons approach to copyright, then I strongly urge you to get acquainted with it as soon as possible. It's a vitally important variation upon the anally retentive approach of the big companies. (See note about Winnie the Pooh, below).

It's not that I am opposed to people making money out of their creative efforts -- far from it, and I wouldn't mind making a little more out of mine. But it needs to be recognised that greed is greed, wherever it occurs; not only is it profoundly unattractive, but it is also counter-productive; even for those who hope to benefit most.

UK publishers on digital rights

Some of the top UK book publishers have been briefing agents on how they feel about digital rights. Publishing News has the story. If you believe that a big-time publisher might one day want to get inside your pants, you'd better take a look. Weighty topics such as how you define 'out of print' in the digital age were discussed, without any obvious result. Discussions continue.

Connolly rebranded

Also in PN is the tale of how Orion are 'rebranding' Michael Connolly, following his selection by Richard and Judy. Presumably Michael was able to deliver 15 minutes of riveting chat, as per the R&J criteria.

McCrum's guide to blurbs

Robert McCrum improved on his usual form in the Observer with an amusing translation of what the blurbs mean on the covers of all those paperbacks. (Link from Literary Saloon.) Not entirely original, of course, but still good for a chuckle.

My favourite: 'Soon to be a major motion picture.' Has anyone, I wonder, ever used 'Unlikely ever to be optioned, not even for one of those British films which lose every penny of their backers' money'? That at least would be truthful. But then, when did truth...

The Book Magazine

In March we noted that the UK's THE Book Magazine (capital THE because it's a Total Home Entertainment enterprise) was running a sort of online referendum to discover the name of 'the greatest living British writer'. This was to plug the first issue of the magazine.

Well, now issue two is out and the winner is... J.K. Rowling. Which is OK by me, though I threatened to complain bitterly if someone like Martin Amis won.

The choice of the winning author reflects, I think, the nature of the kind of person for whom the magazine is intended and who, it seems, actually bought (or bothered to read) issue one: a middlebrow sort of person.

Issue two has the good taste to include an article on book bloggers -- and one, moreover, which recommends the GOB. Author of said article is Adrian Weston, of BooksThatMatter. Due to some oversight he wasn't previously on the blogroll, but he is now. Other book blogs recommended by Adrian include Bookworm on the net and Bookbitch.

THE Book Magazine is also notable for containing ads from a couple of small publishers that I hadn't come across before. These are Birlinn (mostly Scottish interest, but the Polygon imprint does fiction). It turns out, of course, that Birlinn/Polygon are the ur-publishers of Alexander McCall Smith. Now him I have heard of.

Another publisher new to me is Livani Publishing, a Greek company which is plugging Orizon, a debut novel from Mario Routi. The ad says it's out on 1 June; the press office says 6 July.

Words without borders

Words Without Borders is an online journal dedicated to international literature, usually of a highbrow nature, but last month's issue dealt with detective fiction. And there's an associated blog.

Autistic fiction

Autism is reportedly an increasingly common disorder, and in the US may affect 1 in 166 children. If you or your family are among those affected, the last thing you want may be a novel about an autistic child. On the other hand, it might help.

Ann Bauer's A Wild Ride Up the Cupboards is one such novel. The hardcover was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post and Publishers Weekly, among others. Trade paperback now available.

Bertha the Earthtruck

It takes a while to get your head round Bertha the Earthtruck, and I'm not sure that I've entirely got the hang of it eve now. But it appears to be an online story -- true or fiction -- with some input from other people. There was also a gap of almost a year, in which nothing appeared. Well, you know how it is. One gets distracted.

To help you to understand what is going on, the author offers a link to a site review. And he also has his own web site.

Thanks to Jonathan of The Bookseller Crow for the link.


If you have a blog or a web site, you will probably be interested in knowing how many visitors you have and where they come from. Anne Weale points out that one (free) way to do this is via Clustrmaps.

Anita Blake a nympho?

Goodness me. One lives and learns. M'learned friend C.E. Petit Esq. tells me that there is a lot of Anita Blake fan fiction; some of it, he says, is 'even more disturbing than the basic thought of a nymphomaniac vampire huntress.'

For more on this gripping topic, see the C.E. Petit essay on fan fiction (which is well worth reading for lots of other reasons as well). This (seriously long) essay grew out of a law professor's desire to do some 'snuff slash' (whatever that may be, and it sounds messy) featuring Anita Blake; the gentleman's blog entries are linked in the essay.

In passing, C.E. Petit remarks that series such as the Anita Blake stories 'never reach a conclusion. The IFS (Interminable Fantasy Series...) works only because it is, in fact, interminable. It is not just a commercial device, although it is certainly that; it is essential to the underpinning of the work that it be incapable of ending without a deus ex machina of the worst sort.... However, the whole point of "literature"--or, at least, prose fiction--is that the story DOES have a termination point.'

Discuss, as they say in English exam papers.

P.S. I have commented before about the perils and difficulties of using characters created by someone else, and the C.E. Petit essay mentioned above should give anyone pause. Before you waste even five minutes of your time thinking about using (let us say) James Bond or Bertie Wooster, do spend an hour acquainting yourself with some of the snags.

British Council blog

The British Council, which exists to plug anything British worldwide, has a site specialising in books. As part of that venture, there is a BC blog, run by Susan Tranter and other contributors. Latest offering (30 June) is Susan's take on Conundrum by Jan (formerly James) Morris. Susan is the official reader in residence on the BC site.

Scott Byrnes web site

Scott Byrnes, whose novel Revelations was mentioned a few weeks ago, has a web site, complete with plot summary, excerpt, et cetera.

Winnie the Pooh is rich

Speaking of other people's characters, Publishers Lunch reminds us that there is a long-standing battle going on about the rights to A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh books. Disney is involved, of course. Retail sales of Pooh merchandise reached $5.3 billion in 2004, Disney says.

What caught my eye is the Publishers Lunch statement that the current licensees of the Pooh stuff have a claim pending that Disney owes them more than $700 million in unpaid royalties.
Now you know why firms like Disney are in favour of extending copyright steadily towards infinity, and fuck the public interest. With sums like $700 million sloshing about, Disney can afford any number of court cases, and can bribe -- sorry, provide financial support for -- any number of politicians, until at last they get their way.

Aren't capitalism and democracy wonderful? And, as I said at the beginning, thank goodness for Creative Commons, where some common sense is exhibited.

Glimmer Train, bloggers and the (metaphorical) booze

Years ago, I used to work with a retired Colonel who would, on occasion, imbibe rather too generously, behave badly, and then have to go round the next morning and apologise. It seems to me that something of the same sort can happen to bloggers.

In the early days, when you start a blog, you are very largely talking to yourself. And so, not unnaturally, you say exactly what you think, in fairly uninhibited terms. If you're lucky, in the course of time, you accumulate a few readers. And you discover, sometimes to your alarm, that they read what you say very closely, and take it all rather seriously. Which is fine, but it does create an awareness that you have a certain responsibility that wasn't there in the first instance.
Another factor that you have to take into account, of course, is that, while yesterday's newspaper is today's fish and chips wrapping, and therefore lost from sight, the same is not true of the internet. On the internet, if you say something foolish or intemperate, the damn thing is there for ever. Which is potentially embarrassing, not to say potentially actionable.

Ah me. As Peter Carter-Ruck once said, the only way to be safe is to refrain from writing anything, anywhere, any time. And then where would we be?

These thoughts are prompted by Armand's comment on my reference to the literary magazine Glimmer Train (Thursday last week). In an admirably restrained and polite manner, Armand does point out to me that I was, to say the least, ungracious in my remarks. And, yes, it is true. So, like the Colonel (but uninfluenced by alcohol), I apologise. Least one can do.

I still don't like the attitude of the literati in general, but I really don't wish to denigrate the efforts of those who work hard, for no reward, to encourage the kind of writers they happen to believe in.


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting Words Without Borders again! "Voices from Chernobyl" is a MUST READ. At the very least, it should be required reading for every high school student. This work will foster independent thinking towards the reality of the world we live in and towards those that hold power and how they handle national disasters. Peace.

EJ said...

Having tossed across the room, er, that is, read several issues of Glimmer Train a year or two back, I can't say I found fault with your 06/29 comments. Of the hundred or so stories I had to all but tie myself to a chair to endure the reading of, there was only one that stood out. The rest were missing something. A beginning, perhaps. Or an end. A story line would have been a nice touch.

Kitty said...

Ah, yes, I remember your comments well -- and appreciated them, too ;~) No apology/explanation necessary.

Glimmer Train is popular because they pay well. They're also very nice over there, but the stories are not my cup'o'tea.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for McCrum's Guide to blurbs--it was hilarious and made me sneeze the coffee through my nose.

GLIMMER TRAIN--I wouldn't eat your own words too quickly on "Glimmer Train." It's one of many (nice) tidy publications, contest-driven, for "fresh writers and luminaries" and which profits unabashadly out of the desire of new writers to be published. The suggestion that the owners "work hard, for no reward" doesn't hold a lot of water for this particular publication. Nine bucks per issue (not counting contest fees), with many subscriptions by hopeful submitters, isn't huge but ain't bad with the low overhead.

And I've read enough of it to agree--I too will stick to Victorian porn.

Armand said...

Thanks for acknowledging my comment. Really no need to apologize- I like the idea of discussing the merits of things. I mostly wanted to add my opinion.

If you have any interest in a follow up, I would love to find out if you (or other readers who have some interest in the topic) enjoy any of the small literary journals (McSweeneys- which I consider to be one of the most unorthodox- perhaps?) or do you find the whole lot to be useless to your reading needs?

The only British one I know of is Granta, although it's not all that small. I've heard of a Welsh journal called Skald as well- I don’t know if it still exists.

I continue to read and enjoy GOB! Keep up the good work.


- Armand

Anonymous said...

Was interested in the information re: NYT conference. Went to the site as a registered member, but cannot read all of Larry Rohter's piece about Creative Commons without payment for the article or signing up for Times Select.

ivan said...

Grumpy Old Bookman "ungracious?"

Fact is, GOB is rarely actually
grumpy. I have been grumpier in criticizing some of his book titles.
Fact is, Grumpy is extremely gracious in his reviews and comments. I sometimes wish I could be as elegant and tactful.
He is an old newspaperman for sure and seems careful in what he publishes.
Some of my own reviews have rendered the work of others as "shit" and "feebleminded."