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Is This Trip Necessary?

Two weeks ago, I wrote a post expressing my enthusiasm for Julian Fellowes’s decision to launch his upcoming novel BELGRAVIA as an electronically-enhanced weekly web serial that will include links to all kinds of cool supplementary material in each installment.

Now it looks like a new app called Crave is poised to outdo Fellowes. Dedicated to romance novels, it is targeted at the young Smartphone user who only has a few minutes to read between texting friends and checking Instagram and Twitter accounts. A typical Crave romance novel will be available each day in bite-sized 1000-word chapters, and as the reader scrolls down, the text will be periodically interrupted with brief film clips and gifs (often of a hunky actor playing the male lead), text messages between the characters, even notifications from the characters directly to the reader.  As this Huffington Post article explains, “the folks behind Crave think this format just might save the novel.”

Yikes! I didn’t know the novel needed saving so badly that it might only survive in such an interactive slice-and-dice form. As exciting as it is to see the reading experience assuming different dimensions in the digital age, I have to wonder whether this dumbs the whole thing down a bit as it caters to ever-shortening attention spans. There’s a lot to be said for the immersive experience of focusing on a book for long stretches of time while we put everything else on hold. But perhaps for many people that is becoming a luxury, or—worse—a  chore, one that demands intermittent distraction.

Or maybe Crave and whatever other apps it spawns will be just another choice for readers, not the one that necessarily becomes the norm. It will certainly create a new genre and a new platform. And some novels developed with Crave in mind may become an entirely valid and valuable entertainment choice. I’d love to hear other thoughts on this. Let us know what you think, and whether you’ll give this kind of reading a try.

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Happy birthday, Byron!

graffiti2

Lord Byron’s graffiti on the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, near Athens, Greece

 

Ah, Lord Byron.  You were only 36 when you died, but you still managed: to write one of the best Romantic poems, become a hero in Greece for fighting in their revolutionary war, father Ava Lovelace (who was a computer programming badass in the 1840s, and no that isn’t a typo), have a lifetime’s worth of scandalous affairs, and literally leave your mark on some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  That is a lot of life for only 36 years. Happy birthday, you mad, bad, dangerous bastard!

 

 

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Zen writing life

I’ve been getting into yoga now that I’m inching toward my mid 40s and am suffering from a variety of aches and pains. I appreciate the deep stretching more than the deep breathing although I know the combination is what’s so good for us.

I was intrigued by this article by author Erica Black in the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association’s online magazine that compares yoga to writing. I can see the connections so clearly once it’s spelled out. That idea of a solo practice, the intensity of serious concentration, and working hard on something that can be painful and difficult but is ultimately (for most, at least) rewarding and uplifting!

What do you think? Do you appreciate the connection between a yoga life and a writing life? Does it feel like an apt comparison? Does one help the other? Namaste, and happy writing!

life yoga balance yogi flexibility

ps – that is so not me pictured!

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Mixing Music and Writing

A friend of mine recently introduced me to the art of listening to music while writing. He said it helps bring him inspiration and motivation in the same way some musicians use books as inspiration for their songwriting. My friend creates a playlist of songs that match the scene he’s writing—so if he’s writing a scary scene, he’ll listen to the kind of music you might hear in a horror movie—to help him better get into the mood of the scene. While it may seem like a self-explanatory concept, there really is a finer science to it the way he sees it.

Lyrics are the most important key to inspiration. Certain word in the lyrics can trigger new thoughts, which could lead to ideas for your novel. Hopefully if you’ve picked the correct song—which is why it’s important to take seriously—those ideas will match the theme of your book. The mood of the song is important to motivation. If you’re writing an action scene, you want a song with a faster tempo. If your own heart is pumping, you’ll feel more inclined to stay in the mindset of a character that’s escaping some type of danger.

I recently tried this method, being skeptical because the process of choosing music, and not just any music but that which would appropriately match my writing, seemed like a waste of time that could be spent actually writing. I also have a very difficult time hearing people sing words when I’m trying to write down different words. However, he was so enthusiastic about his method, I had to at least try it.

And it was magic.

Because the songs I’d picked were all about the subject of my attention, the words in the lyrics didn’t send my mind spiraling off topic, and it was much easier to get into the heads of my characters when the music matched their feelings or actions. Writing became more of an interactive experience; it became not only the soundtrack for my characters but for me as I wrote. I also worked for about twice the time I usually do, and I found my writing much more imaginative than normal.

I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be using this method more, and now I’ve become so much more interested in trying out different writing methods. Any suggestions?

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Reading in Bars (and other places too)

During my senior seminar class in college, one of the guest speakers mentioned that his favorite spot to read was a bar. Hmm, I thought. Reading in a bar. Seems awfully distracting.  But this summer, I tried it. I’ve newly started carrying a book around with me everywhere I go—something that was habit all the way up through high school, and then when I got to college, fell by the wayside. There were too many other things for me to be carrying around in my bags and spare moments between class, extracurriculars, and social time were few and far between.

I went to a bar I’d wanted to try, ordered a drink, and sat the very end of the bar and started reading Paradise by Toni Morrison. Oddly, the background noise was soothing instead of distracting, I mindlessly munched on bar snacks, and an hour later, paid my bill and went home, having finished a good chunk of my book. Since then, I’ve tried to get to bars or restaurants a little early if I’m meeting friends—for the sole purpose of whipping out whatever book I’m currently reading and getting another chapter further.

Where are your favorite, odd places to read? What’s the best atmosphere for you to read in? (For more Friday fun, check out this Instagram that documents some great subway reading. And anyone under 21 who’s reading this, don’t try this until you’re of legal age, please.)

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The New Year’s purge

 

It’s a new year, and in the Rudolph house that means it’s time to get rid of clutter. I think we do a January cleaning, rather than Spring or Fall Cleaning, because we’ve just come back from the holidays in Maine crammed into a car that’s inevitably jam-packed with oversized kids’ presents and new clothes from the Freeport outlets, and all we want to do is find room for the new stuff in our too-small New York apartment–the only solution for which is to purge the old stuff. 

So, for the past two weeks, we’ve been clearing out every closet, cabinet, and bookcase, bagging clothes for Goodwill, bringing books to schools, and scrubbing down the general grunge in the kitchen. I can’t really say it’s been fun, particularly getting rid of the old clothes that I know I’ll never wear but liked to see in my closet just because… But the results are worth it–it’s nice to be able to actually see the back of my closet for a change, and not have a 3-foot pile of books on my desk, either. 
 
And coincidentally or not, recently I feel like I’ve been asking a bunch of my authors to do a lot of purging in their manuscripts as well. I know I’ve used the phrase “kill your darlings” at least three times in recent weeks, and I’ve had conversations with writers about getting out of the corners they’ve written themselves into. Now, darling killing and getting out of corners are always necessary, no matter what time of year. But I wonder–do writers have seasons or preferred times of the year when they feel more inclined to trim the fat and solve lingering problems? 
 
Well… do you? 

 

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When it’s good, I’m really good, and when it’s bad, I go to pieces

My musical hero and idol David Bowie died on Sunday at the age of 69, and it felt to me like a light had gone out in the world. He was, along with Jim Henson and Stanley Kubrick, one of the three great artistic influences on my life. (That combination should explain me and my taste pretty perfectly.) I wanted to join in the celebrating and singing like they were doing in Brixton, but I kept bursting into tears. (Am I the only one who cries about ten times more easily as I get older?)

I really don’t remember there being a before-Bowie time in my life. He was there in my childhood, on MTV looking all sweaty in Australia in the “Let’s Dance” video. There he was in Labyrinth, which I remember watching at my friend Paul’s house (Paul knew all the cool movies), laughing hysterically and rewinding over and over to watch him step from the bottom of a platform to the top, in what at the time seemed like mind-blowing special effects. Then there was my obsession with the “changesbowie” album, which got me really hooked on his music. From there, my love only accelerated.

I was lucky to see Bowie live several times 2002-2003, including at an amazingly intimate show at Jimmy’s Bronx Cafe during his New York Marathon tour. The man couldn’t have been more than 25 feet away, playing songs from the brilliant Heathen, but also favorites like “Starman,” “Be My Wife,” and even “Ziggy Stardust.” I might have smiled for days afterwards. When he had a heart attack on stage in 2004, I had a feeling we weren’t going to see him play live again. And he disappeared, for the most part, for so many years. (Though this cameo on Extras in 2006 cracks me up every time I watch it.)

When Bowie released The Next Day last year on his birthday, I was hopeful that we’d entered a new era of music. And I was thrilled when it was announced that yet another album, Blackstar, was coming on his birthday this year. It’s clear now that this period of creativity was a goodbye, and what a way to go. The man’s been dealing with mortality and dying since the beginning, but relistening to this new album through the lens of his dying…damn.

So, while this post was mainly a way for me to deal with my own grief, it also has to do with books! Because, as I’m sure you’ve heard many times over, Bowie was quite the reader. And boy was his taste varied, as evidenced by this list of his 100 must-read books. If you’ve been following along with him at all, many of the books aren’t much of a surprise, and also not surprising is where our reading overlaps: The Gnostic Gospels, A Clockwork Orange, 1984, The Great Gatsby, The Iliad. Those works influenced some of my favorite Bowie albums, like Diamond Dogs, Station to Station, and Scary Monsters and Super Creeps, and it’s fun to try to make other connections between the books and his own work.

Looking at this list and thinking about his lyrics, I can’t help but wonder what a Bowie novel would have read like. It would have been weird and likely esoteric, and I likely would have spent ages trying to decipher it. And I would have loved every minute of it.

Saying goodbye to friends is hard. I miss knowing that David Bowie is another person in our world, making things brighter, shinier and weirder. But I will continue to celebrate his music and spirit, and I’m going to try my damnedest to grab life and knowledge by the throat the way he did.

“Should’ve took a picture

Something I could keep

Buy a little frame, something cheap

For you

Everyone says hi”

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Clubbing for change

 

As longtime readers of our blog know, we have an office book club that meets once every couple of months.  I’ve also mentioned a time or twenty that I’m a member of a neighborhood book club in my town.  Clearly, I’m a fan of book clubs—and not just because of the wonderful marriage they broker between literature and wine.  I find that I learn a great deal from the opinions of other readers.  Even when I am convinced that they are tragically wrong in those opinions (Sharon Pelletier and Michael Bourret’s wrongheadedness about The Goldfinch comes to mind), the points of view expressed generally reveal something new and different (about the work, about the person championing it) to me.   Books are the most efficient and effective repositories of ideas mankind has ever come up with, in my opinion, and only good things can come from people discussing those ideas in a respectful* and thoughtful way.

Which is why I’m so excited about Emma Watson’s feminist book club, Our Shared Shelf.  In an era when there seems to be a great deal of ambivalence, at best, and disdain, at worst, for feminism, I think Ms. Watson’s mission is excellent.  For all the important gains the founding mothers of the feminist movement achieved (our own Phyllis Chesler among them), we still have a long way to go in attaining equality and, in many cultures, basic human rights for women.

How cool is it that Hermione Granger’s alter ego is spearheading this movement?  I’m totally fangurling!

Hermione reading

 

*Not always the case at DGLM gatherings, I confess.

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I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want

My clever colleagues Stacey and Jessica used this space to share their wish lists for the coming year and I’m going to avail myself of their example! Here are some of the categories I’m eager for right now:

Can’t put it down narrative non-fiction. Whether it’s a gripping personal narrative about key current events, or an exquisitely reported work of journalism, I want it! Send me your Five Days at Memorial or your Missoula, your Irritable Hearts or your A House In the Sky.

Tell me something I don’t know explanatory / exploratory non-fiction. Are you really good at something everyone is curious about right now? Do you have a new approach to save money or reset your memory, a new explanation of why we need love or what scares us most….and the platform to back it up? Rip it from the headlines and explain it to me. I’m not looking for gimmicks, but for accessible experts with fresh ways of looking at our world, the things we do, and what we care about most, like Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Scott Stossel’s My Age of Anxiety and Kate Bolick’s Spinster.

OMG! book club fiction. I will never not be hungry for character-driven page turners and well-written plots that keep you guessing. Got a closed community, like a boarding school or fishing village? Bring it on. Is a lifelong group of friends falling apart? Is a family struggling to keep a secret from the outside world…or from each other? YES PLEASE. Bring me your Big Little Lies, your Secret Histories, your Tana Frenches and Beatriz Williamses yearning to breathe free.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of the types of writing I am interested in, so don’t be discouraged if the thing you’re working on doesn’t fall meet these descriptions. If you’ve done your research and think I’m right for it, send it to me – sometimes the favorite projects of all are ones we never would’ve thought to wish for…

And those of you who do fall into these categories…I can’t wait to read your work!

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Hail Fellowes!

 

Like a lot of people, I’m rejoicing that the new season of DOWNTON ABBEY has started, while I simultaneously lament its imminent demise: This season is to be its last. But its tireless creator and head writer, Julian Fellowes, won’t be snoozing on a beach in the Bahamas. He’s taking a cue from Charles Dickens with his next project, BELGRAVIA, a novel told in serial form that will make the first of its eleven episodic appearances this coming April, right after DOWNTON will have concluded and many of us will be in the throes of mourning.

BELGRAVIA, set in that very tony neighborhood in mid-19th-century London, will be available first on the web, then will  be published in a complete hard-copy editon by Grand Central in June, once all of the episodes have appeared. But Fellowes is wisely taking advantage of all the technology that Charles Dickens never could have imagined. Each of the episodes will be made available not only in digital but in audio, and subscribers, who will pay $13.99 for the entire package, will be able to switch back and forth between the two as they choose. In addition, there will be all sorts of bells and whistles—bonus materials, video clips, surprise extra features—embedded within each chapter through hyperlinks.

It’s likely to be one of those great web-based events, like NPR’s Serial podcast series, that captures the attention of a huge swath of the country. And if that is the case, it’s a fair bet that plenty of other big-deal books will receive similar treatment as time goes by. It’s one more way that technology will expand the reading experience, and make it something we can all share simultaneously on several different platorms.

Do I sound like I’m shilling here? So be it. Mr. Fellowes, I’m on!  April can’t come soon enough.