Posts Categorized: Writing

Interactive Novels – Frankenstein from Inkle Studios

I’ve long had a fondness for Choose Your Own Adventure books. As a kid, I’d sit on the floor, mesmerized by the pulpy covers and unknown outcomes. The storylines were simple and similar to Hanna-Barbera cartoons. Unlike a cartoon though, it was me in the story, imagined through a second-person perspective and the endings were often gruesome. Shaggy and Scooby would never be impaled through the chest by a Native American spear, or die of thirst, alone in the desert while vultures spiraled in the sky.

Interactive texts are not new, but the technology with which to create them is changing. Inkle has a service called Inkle Writer, where people can create their own interactive texts. It’s slick. It’s intuitive. You should have some fun with it. How they’re delivering these texts is also new. No more worn covers and marking decisions with multiple fingers. Currently, they’ve taken an interactive story by Dave Morris based on Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, and created a beautiful app, available through iOS. It’s engaging, it’s fun and it is yet another example of how technology is changing writing and publishing. Further, it leads to the following question: is a writer who creates an app for their work a novelist or a developer?

To hear more from Dave Morris and this latest creation that exists among us, check out his interview on Here and Now.

Skills for Today’s English Major

Student studying outside.

It’s been eleven years since I completed my undergraduate education. The Internet had upended the music industry during that time, but not writing and publishing. The information economy was dwarfed by fears of Y2K, when airports would shutdown, power plants would go offline, and we’d all be waking up with a killer hangover. The term, web 2.0, did not yet exist.

I double majored in English with an emphasis on writing and Japanese Studies. My interest lay in writing and in that hallway of the humanities writing seemed more marketable than literature. Moreover, I viewed speaking Japanese as a key to a job either teaching or translating. There was no talk of online identities, social media, or content creation. Writing fell into the realm of fiction, poetry, essays, thought and research papers. The term content could easily be confused with the feeling I had reading fiction and writing short stories. (more…)

Review: The Dog of the South – Charles Portis

Charles Portis‘ novel The Dog of the South is a dialogue-driven narrative told from the perspective of a young man from Little Rock, Arkansas during the late 60’s or early 70’s. The narrator, Ray Midge, belongs in the company of such characters as Ignatius J. Reilly, characters whose voices are strong, outside the mainstream, and blunder through life either unaware or uncaring for how others see them. Midge is uptight, conservative, and drives the reader between bouts of laughter and annoyance. It’s a fine line and Portis seems acutely aware of the tension Ray Midge creates.

The novel follows a simple enough premise that is absurd on face value. Midge is in pursuit of Guy Dupree who has stolen Midge’s Ford Torino and credit cards, and run off to Mexico with Midge’s wife, Norma. What’s Midge most concerned about? Why, the car of course!

Midge has Guy Dupree’s less powerful 1963 Buick Special, a pistol packed in a cooler of ice, baloney, and beer, as well as an inability to comprehend why people find him tedious. It’s not quite Don Quixote tilting at windmills, but both men are fairly deluded.

Through the meandering narrative, Portis’ love for language and dialogue spills from the pages. Midge and Dr. Symes, a scoundrel Midge picks up in Mexico, partake in many conversations where the other man is talking at or past the other one. It’s funny. It hits the right cadence. It may go on too long. The risk of course is wearing out the reader’s patience. If you’re looking for a change of pace or a unique voice, I recommend reading The Dog of the South. If Midge and Symes start to annoy you, take a break and come back to the novel, this isn’t one to quit and forget.

Publishing: William Gass Interview Regarding Abstractions Arrive as an iBook

William Gass’ new book is only available through iBooks.

There’s a wonderful introduction and interview with William H. Gass titled “A Champion of the Book Takes to the iPad” on the NYTimes Bits Blog. The interview focuses on the new book, Abstractions Arrive, which was published by Stephen Schenkenberg who also runs the website Reading William Gass, and the decision to make it an electronic book exclusively through iBooks.

The interview is interesting because of Gass’ past comments and criticisms involving the Internet and the role of the book. His perspective is dead on and humorous, especially his response to readers needing a $500 device. “That’s your problem, not mine!”

Review: Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson

Is it just me, or did Kurt Warner pose for this book cover?

How does one critique a book? Examine the writing, the mechanics, the beauty of the written word? Or, does one take another approach and view the enjoyment and pull of the narrative?

Steven Erikson‘s novel, Gardens of the Moon, was enjoyable. It ventured away from that staid plot device: the young hero from nowhere who defeats an empire. Instead, Gardens of the Moon shifted perspective among a cast of characters that included various factions from a powerful empire and a mixture of people from a rebel city. As the series moves forward, Erikson has given himself a lot with which to work. The series (Malazan Book of the Fallen) seems ambitious in breadth. From my understanding the series moves in such a way that some characters carry over, while others fade away. This seems like a smart move and allows Erikson to focus on the story he wants to tell. The end of Gardens of the Moon was fairly complete as well. While it certainly leads into the next book, it’s not dependent on what happens in the future. In other words, one can read this first book and feel satisfied.

Satisfaction comes at a price though. While I mentioned that Erikson avoided some of the pitfalls of fantasy, he did manage to fall into a another trap: poor writing and mechanics. I liked the story; it’s true, but I found it hard to read due to Erikson’s writing. Transitions are few, descriptions are flat, changes in perspective are disorienting, and Erikson does not seem to understand the usage of commas and semicolons. Those items are what’s stopping me from reading the second book.

In the cost/benefit ratio of reading, do I want to put up with all those deficiencies for the story? Is it too distracting? If you’ve read the this novel or others in the series, let me know what you think. Does the writing get better?

Review: Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson

David Guterson’s, Snow Falling on Cedars, is a quiet, contemplative book that depicts both the isolated life of the San Juan Islands and the racism Japanese immigrants experienced before and after World War II.

The novel revolves around one major event: the death of Carl Heine. Carl is a World War II veteran, a fisherman, husband, and father. He’s quiet with a gruff disposition. Moreover, Carl is strong, handsome and respected by the community. When he was a boy, his family owned a large strawberry farm on San Pedro Island; however, after his father’s death the farm was sold by his mother. At the time, Carl, was away at war. One could say that Carl represents the status quo or ideal of the island. He’s white, he stays out of other people’s business, he works hard, and lives clean. (more…)

Review: Chronicles of the Black Company – Glen Cook

The Black Company, Shadows Linger, The White Rose Glen Cook’s Chronicles of the Black Company, the three novel tome which contains The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and the White Rose were not created following the classic fantasy formula. Instead, Cook has taken the perspective of a troop of mercenaries known as the Black Company and ostensibly recognized by readers as “the bad guys” and proceeds to dismantle the common theme of a prophetic orphaned child embraced by a rebellion who overthrows an evil empire. While not as morally complex as George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, the characters in these novels fall along a spectrum of good and bad, where history is relative and the winner has the last word. (more…)

Review: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – Charles Duhigg

Habits have a profound influence over our lives. Before reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, I had never paused and reflected on the habits in my life. How are habits formed? What causes them to take root? Most importantly, why are they so hard to stop? (more…)

Review: Train Dreams – Denis Johnson

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson is an elegiac novella set in the American west. The novella takes place between the late 1800’s and into the 1960’s. It chronicles the life of Robert Grainier and his struggles to carve out a living through logging, building railroads, and working odd jobs. At a deeper level, Train Dreams meditates on the losses Grainier experiences and how he adapts. The writing is thoughtful and gorgeous., showing Johnson’s skill as a writer and Grainier’s fresh perspective. Furthermore, the narrative flows well and lends the novella a dream-like quality as time jumps around through Grainier’s memories. (more…)