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Walking Writers and Bestsellers @ Link Wanderlust

I came across an article on walking and another one on a writer’s process chronicled.

What does walking have to do with writing? Turns out, a lot. Read this article from the BBC mag.

Wordsworth was a writer and we all know about the daffodils he saw on one of his walks. Charles Dickens walked, as did Virginia Woolfe, Henry Thoreau, W.G Sebald and many others.

“There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together. Walking requires a certain amount of attention but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively,” says Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking.

And there are many other authors who have explored this idea of walking in an increasingly urbanized world, where walking is more about patience dealing with traffic (more pedestrians die due to accidents than the people driving their cars) or keeping fit. And don’t think that walking with headphones or texting as you walk is the kind of mindful walking that has been prescribed by great thinkers and walkers.

Walking is no pedestrian business.

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Have you ever wondered how an author writes the book? You might have seen the publicity interviews and listened to the tips enumerated by the author half in jest, half in denial(as writers are a little superstitious about giving away their trade secrets or maybe embarrassed by what the process of writing can do to them).

Andy Martin contacted Lee Child to understand more about the writing process and ended up writing a book called Reacher said Nothing.

Writing a bestseller ‘on the verge of a stroke’ is a must read for anyone who wants to take the plunge into writing as an occupation.

‘So far I have no title, no real plot…. I don’t have a clue about what is going to happen,’ Child tells Martin on the first day. This, for most novelists, would be a startling admission, especially in crime fiction where plotting is paramount. Martin perches on a couch as Child sits down, lights a cigarette, and begins to write. By the end of the day, Child has smoked 26 Camels, drunk 19 cups of coffee (‘I’m writing on the verge of a stroke,’ he quips) and written 2,000 words. It’s fascinating to watch the process of writing unfolding in real time —

Don’t you simply want to read the rest?

Imagine that you are being watched as you write and your every decision relating to your work is questioned. Would you be able to write at all? Lee Child did; he wrote his book under intense scrutiny, in seven months. When you are writing your twentieth book, however, the story is a different one altogether.

Have you read any article on the web that has made you wiser about the writing process? If you have, share it with us in the comments section.

 


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Different Strokes and Illustrations @Link Wanderlust

While browsing the worldwide web, I found two features on the design aspects of books. One is a story about the Chinese font, a font that is much more complicated than conventional fonts in the English language.

Nikhil Sonad starts the article The long, incredibly tortuous, and fascinating process of creating a Chinese font with how the oracle bones came into being; this is where Chinese characters came from:

“The soothsayers etched these pressing questions directly onto the shoulder blades of oxen and the under-shells of turtles, which are also known as plastrons. They then poked the inscribed animal parts with hot metal rods until cracks formed. The shapes of the cracks served as omens”

Chinese characters have changed very little over thousands of years. So what about Chinese fonts?

Here’s some gyan about Chinese characters, which gives you perspective and sets perspective for how difficult a font designer’s work would be in:

“The conventional wisdom is that a reader needs to know around 2,000 characters to understand a newspaper, and about a thousand more for the average novel. One of the most comprehensive Chinese dictionaries, the Zhonghua Zihai, contains 85,568 characters.”

It’s been very hard to simplify the Chinese font for the reason of sheer scale. While for English, you need about 240 glyphs, for Chinese you need 13,053. Sonad’s insight into what it takes to get that exact combination of strokes and calligraphy right will make you think very differently about language today. When we read in English language font, we take fonts for granted, but in a language like Chinese font diversity is a hard hit. Designers are excited though, as it presents an opportunity. A formidable one at that.

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Source: Flickr

 

Another article I came across was about book illustration. Chris Russell is an illustrator and he has tried to trace the history of his craft in an essay in Lit Hub called A Brief History of Illustration. The whole concept of manuscripts started out with pictures and text, as in illuminated manuscripts. Illustration was particularly important in the fifteenth century when “the text of the book was carved into the same block as the image.” Even adult fiction in the 18th and 19th centuries were accompanied by illustrations. Dickens’s collaboration with his illustrators is well known.

 

What happened to illustration in the twentieth century? The minor extinction couldn’t be because of a dearth of artists. It was probably an opinion that art in books was low brow.

I don’t see why more authors can’t collaborate with artists of the world. Graphic novelists like Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, Joe Sacco, have at least changed the fate of the visual-text communion.

Would you want to have your book illustrated? Why not?

 


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Translating yourself & others @Link Wanderlust

In this feature, I’ll be talking about rising in translation.

I chanced across this wonderful article in the Wall Street Journal, an interview with Jhumpa Lahiri called How Jhumpa Lahiri learned to write again. Lahiri has written yet another book- In Other Words. However, this is not just another book. Lahiri fans know about her Indian emigrant world painted in brilliant short stories and commercially successful novels. But she has departed from the comfort of being a well-known author and tried to find herself using another language as a new crutch. “In learning Italian I learned, again, to write,” she says.

This interview throws a lot of light on how important creativity is, not just for success. Lahiri has achieved everything a writer would probably dream of. What does a writer dream of once she is a Writer without a doubt? She wishes to go back to what started off, of course. To the anonymous writer pitching to magazines, never really knowing where to go. She talks about how the English language was always a burden and Italian freed her up to look at herself without the baggage of her roots. She also went back to writing the diary, writing for herself, and not for how it would feel if copies are printed.

Many struggling writers probably forget how lucky they are that their words are theirs alone and that success around the corner is probably more beautiful than success itself.

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Source: Flickr

In an interview called The Face of Ferrante  with Ann Goldstein, also Jhumpa Lahiri’s translator, Kate Dodson talks about how she identified with Goldstein since she works as a translator too.  Says Dodson:

“Lispector’s The Complete Stories was my first book-length translation. By the end of it, I was a transformed woman. I was also a wreck, going cross-eyed from pages and pages of proofs, anxiously tweaking words, worn out from the emotional weight of Lispector’s characters. I wished I were Ann Goldstein, as I imagined her: unflappable, expertly laying down “elegant, burnished English,” as James Wood described her translations of Ferrante in The New Yorker. Her work possesses an assurance that comes from over twenty years of translating, ten of them spent with Ferrante’s books, as well as a singular training—forty years at The New Yorker, where she is head of the copy department.”

Ann Goldstein changed the status of the translator as sheet anonymous presence to someone who was sought after. Elena Ferrante, the writer she has translated, is nowhere in the picture. Ann Goldstein does not know the reclusive mind who has created the famous Ferrante Trilogy, though she knows the works themselves and how they have a mind, a deep, dense mind of their own. Working on an author’s works for years together can change the very fabric of your being. While Jhumpa Lahiri wrestles with her sense of self in a new language, Ann Goldstein is immersed in the intricacies of a world created by another in a language she has grown to love.

Translation is glorious stuff and with writers who are starting to see beyond their own languages, we only gain from more and more interpretations.


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Strange Libraries and Vampire Authors @Link Wanderlust

 

We talk about two features today- one about books that don’t exist but are written about anyway, and another is about the perceived danger of books.

Have you ever wanted to visit an invisible library- a library where books that do not exist are quoted and footnoted?  Jaideep Unudurti does. In his essay Reviewing Books that were never were he starts with a book called Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton. The book is subtitled ‘The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in AD 922’, “purported to be an account of an Arab traveller in the fog-haunted North.”

Of course, the Arab writer and his manuscript was a figment of the writer’s imagination.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind is another book that features books in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books: “a labyrinth of passage-ways and crammed bookshelves rose from base to pinnacle like a beehive, woven with tunnels, steps, platforms and bridges that presaged an immense library of seemingly impossible geometry”

Arturo Perez-Reverte , Lev Grossman, Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges are all pioneers in creating books in imaginary book land.  Which writer wouldn’t appreciate the idea of yet another book?

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We think very highly of the reading habit and advise  video game obsessed children to read as though reading will fit a halo of wisdom around their little heads. Tara Isabella Burton disagrees with this in her essay Dark Books in Aeon – reading is no ‘kale smoothie for the soul’, she says.  The antiquated idea that reading could be dangerous was popular in the nineteenth century.

There was a great deal of suspicion about people who allowed a book to encroach their imagination.

“In his condemnatory tract Popular Amusements (1869), the American clergyman Jonathan Townley Crane cautioned his flock against reading novels: ‘novel-readers spend many a precious hour in dreaming out clumsy little romances of their own, in which they themselves are the beautiful ladies and the gallant gentlemen who achieve impossibilities…’ only to find themselves ‘merged in the hero of the story’, losing the sense of who they really are.”

Is there truth in this?

Well, if you look at it that way, the writer is always considered as someone above the flock, an intellectual superman-  über-Mensch- who can wield power over the masses with his pen. This almost makes him God-like or more on the dark side, even vampiresque.

I like the idea of vampires but seeing a novel as something with blood letting qualities is new to me. The reader allows himself or herself to believe anything the author says. This can be a problem if the narrators are men as then the women will be secondary narrated beings.

“In Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1856), it might be the punishment of an adulteress; in E L James’s Fifty Shades of Grey (2011) – to give a recent but telling example of a book that has inspired fierce loyalty on the part of its readers – it is the characters’ return to hetero-normativity, to ‘vanilla’ sex that codes the trilogy as having a ‘happy’ ending satisfactory to its audience.”

This is actually dangerous. Then there’s the problem of the one story, the only story:

“In a 2009 TEDx talk, writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie highlighted the dangers of the ‘one story’, explaining how she, as a Nigerian, found her self-understanding dominated by collective narratives – the ‘single story of Africa’ – in a manner not so different from Cordelia’s possession by Johannes.”

It’s a risk therefore to expose yourself to someone’s ideas. But then as consumers, we are continuously exposed to ideas. We are in a world of vampires; the only savior would be to stay on guard and refuse to become the object of a fiery author’s pen, for every dangerous book has the illuminating counterpart, and we can’t afford to miss those, can we?

 

 

 


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Reading forever and Solitude @Link Wanderlust

This feature by Michael Dirda called The Future of the Humanities: Reading is a balanced account of how, threats apart, reading is here to stay.

“Reading always seems to be in crisis. Two and half millennia ago, Socrates inveighed against the written word because it undermined memory and confused data with wisdom. When the codex—the bound book—appeared, some conservative Romans almost certainly went around complaining, ‘What was wrong with scrolls? They were good enough for Horace and Cicero.’ Gutenberg’s press gradually undercut the market for illuminated manuscripts. Aldus Manutius, inventor of the pocket-sized book, rendered huge folios a specialty item.”

Now the same crises arises for eBooks.

“Today, many people similarly bluster that digital books and our increasingly screen-based culture herald the end of serious reading. This is nonsense.”

And that’s the whole point. No matter how we read, books are here to stay. The virus of sharing actually helps sales and has given the book industry an empire’s worth. Dirda is not an unreasonable optimist. He shares the pitfalls of eBooks-suppose a Voldemortesque champion of censorship decided to use digitization as an excuse to infringe into the vocabulary of books and trim away whatever he does not deem fit?

Even worse, what if presentism, the belief that only now is correct, overtakes popular opinion, deeming everything ever done in the past as inconsequential:

 “For centuries, antiquity might have been over-reverenced; now earlier eras are condescendingly patronized, smugly disdained as racist, imperialist, classist, sexist, and generally reprehensible. Such presentism is intellectually impoverishing, as well as generally bad for one’s character, and should be resisted. The timeworn adage remains at least partly true: We are but pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Now there’s a golden passage, if ever there was one.

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The short story reared its head again in Words Unwired in The New York Times. It was just when “social media was held up as the new literary community, and the Kindle was king. Print, we heard again and again, was dead” that Lorin Stein and her colleagues decided to relaunch the Paris review. It was a bad time for anyone to deal with the short story.

“Short stories especially: Nobody actually wanted to read them. Nobody was learning how to write them. The savviest M.F.A. students were pouring their energies into fat historical novels — and their Facebook pages. When I told my sister I was quitting my job as a book editor to edit a magazine of stories and poems, she looked as if I’d said I was running away to join the circus: a tiny, doomed, irrelevant circus.”

This is an interesting article that led me to discover some wonderful writers like Otessa Moshfegh, and Stein is write to point out that the writing and reading are acts of public solitude that the social media can never match up to.

“To write a story also requires public solitude. You can’t be worrying how you sound. You can’t wonder whether you or your characters are likable or smart or interesting. You have to be inside the scene — the tactile world of tables and chairs and sunlight — attending to your characters, people who exist for you in nonvirtual reality. This takes weird brain chemistry. (A surprising number of novelists hear voice, and not metaphorically. They hear voice in their heads.) It also takes years of reading — solitary reading.”

I found this article in the din of social media though and that’s where I’m sharing it too. Guess there’s no getting away from the worldwide web.


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A theory of female pain & short stories in anthologies @Link Wanderlust

Leslie Jamison, a novelist and essayist, has written an essay called Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain. She cuts open the wound. She examines under a microscope the hurt, the angst, the suffering, and the trauma of female life. She dwells on the wound. She doesn’t disregard the pain, as anyone else would if they witnessed a woman’s bleeding heart. She doesn’t ask her female contemporaries to stop whining and she doesn’t think sedatives will help either.

Her essay is a long hard look at the way women and their pain has been trivialized. It has been reduced to the ridiculous round of girls narrating their worst fear as rape, gang rape, or gang rape and then mutilation. Women either turn numb or use the crutch of sarcasm to find their way. Some women turn their pain to art, maybe poetry.

This is how she tries to make sense of her own discursive thought:

“I’m trying to map the terms and borders of that complicated right. I’m not fighting for a world in which suffering gets worshipped, and I’m not just criticizing the post-​wounded voice, or dismissing the ways in which female pain gets dismissed. I do believe there is nothing shameful about being in pain, and I do mean for this essay to be a manifesto against the accusation of wound-​dwelling. But the essay isn’t a double negative, a dismissal of dismissal, so much as a search for possibility—​the possibility of representing female suffering without reifying its mythos.”

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If you want to have a deeper understanding about the fate of a short story, not how it was written, but more of which lit mag it came from or which anthology it went to, then this feature by Christian Lorentzen is an interesting journey indeed.

Lorentzen talks about how celebity anthologist, if there could be such a term, Edward J.O’Brien had the distinction of hand picking short stories by reading extensively through the fiction magazines printed at the time. Without a rich magazine culture, short stories suffer the most.

“It’s strange to read of the dynamics that governed the production of short fiction at the time he began his anthology project because they are the reverse of what they are today. As an art form, the short story was deluged in commercial modes, and what we’d now call “literary fiction” was an exception in need of champions (not least from British and Irish critics who were prepared to dismiss the entire American scene); today, it’s the proponents of “genre fiction” who cast themselves as the underdogs against the hegemony of literary realism.”

In fact, writers preferred the quick money they made by getting published in literary magazines to the prospect of getting their books published. Today of course, this is not the case.

The content of the short story has changed. So what you may find in an anthology of 1915 would have none of the influences of Chekov, Joyce or Kafka. But by the 60s, sex and violence become part and parcel of the short story, while later on conservatism came back.

The question is does the short story have scope to change. An anthologist has a larger job than he or she realizes.

 

 


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Empathy and the Writer@ Link Wanderlust

Do you read Nobel Laureates’ speeches? It’s not a bad idea to read or listen to Laureates in Literature,  if you want to be what is called a serious writer. Svetlana Alexievich’s Nobel Lecture wakes you up, at least for a while, a dim moment of sunlight peering into a cold room. It is such a relief to know that such people exist and write.

Alexievich pays a lot of attention to the voice as she writes with her ear. She listens to women who have lost their husbands,brother and children pour out their grief. She listens to the voices at Chernobyl and Afghanistan.

What I remember most, is that women talked about love, not death. They would tell stories about saying goodbye to the men they loved the day before they went to war, they would talk about waiting for them, and how they were still waiting. Years had passed, but they continued to wait: “I don’t care if he lost his arms and legs, I’ll carry him.” No arms … no legs … I think I’ve known what love is since childhood …

She weaves stories out of what people say, and though she has seen too much of the undesirable, she has also witnessed the sublime. Read this to understand how important empathy is to be able to write.

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Alaa Al Aswany, an Egyptian writer, talks about his favorite passage of a book in a feature entitled How Literature Inspires Empathy @ the By Heart series in The Atlantic.  He chooses a single line from Dostoevsky’s book The House of the Dead:

He, also, had a mother.

The ‘also’ signifies a great deal and is the root of empathy that makes Dostoevsky a great writer. Aswany explains how writing can not be about intolerance in any form. Just as Svetlana absorbs the world around her, assuming nothing, taking in all stories of grief like a giant sponge, Aswany believes that a writer has to write about the world as it is.

Literature gives us a broad spectrum of human possibilities. It teaches us how to feel other people suffering. When you read a good novel, you forget about the nationality of the character. You forget about his or her religion. You forget about his skin color or her skin color. You only understand the human. You understand that this is a human being, the same way we are. And so reading great novels absolutely can remake us as much better human beings.

A novel is a living thing; the reader must feel what the author feels and become better for it.


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Becomers, Quixote and Unlikeable Women @ Link Wanderlust

Today we explore two links from the worldwide web, both from interesting magazines in the US.

Antonio Muñoz Molina starts his essay Don Quixote or the art of becoming (The Hudson Review) with an interesting premise. When readers start their love affair with books, they like the constancy of characters like Holmes who always cracks the case; Holmes could never be the detective who would fail.

It was Saul Bellow, of American fiction fame, who mentioned that are two kind of folks. Be-ers are those who always stay the way they are, no matter what circumstance they are thrown into. The Becomers are those who are restless enough to want change, and what better place to find the unknown than books?

It may seem commonplace for us, in this time of eBooks and print books, to escape into the solitude of a book. Molina explains the problem with reading that Cervantes identified early on:

“In Don Quixote, the first modern novel, Cervantes addresses this most modern of conun­drums. What is the influence of fiction not only over the conscience, but also on the life of readers? With so many books being available for more or less educated readers, how can one pick out the good from the bad? Written words, set in printed letters, exert an almost instant authority: Is there a safe way to find out which stories are true and which are false; in other words, how can solitary readers be certain about the right attitude to be taken toward a particular book? The reader is in constant danger of misreading as long as he or she doesn’t grasp the exact nature of the book. Cervantes was acutely aware of this problem, having been himself as much in love with chivalric and pastoral novels as Don Quixote. Mistaking a novel for a book of history is no less a catastrophe than mistaking windmills for giants or peasant women for princesses.”

Molina rightly points out that while Don Quixote is loved for being a becomer, today he is more outcast than ever before, as the idea of culture which was once acquired by a becomer has been hijacked by the be-er steeped in tradition and custom, unwilling to change, regardless of where he is.

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Do you like your female characters to be goody two shoes? Do you cringe at an unfaithful wife or uncaring mother? A story in The Atlantic, Female characters don’t have to be likeable, talks about the repulsion that negative women characters reap; yet they are more popular than people would like to admit:

“More than being “unlikable,” these female characters directly challenge the institutions and practices frequently used to measure a woman’s value: marriage, motherhood, divorce, and career. They defy likability in their outlandish occupation of the roles to which women are customarily relegated—mother, wife, daughter—resisting sexist mythologies and social pressures.”

There are quite a few books that have showcased flawed females in 2015. Think Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, and several others. Looks like not so socially correct women are here to stay, at least in books and the movies.

 


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Writing woes and Decomposition @ Link Wanderlust

In this series  called Link Wanderlust, we look at pieces of wisdom about writing and publishing.

I came across this piece by Shelley A. Leedahl– The Unemployed Life of a Professional Writer at The Literary Hub. Shelly asks a perinent question: “If I am succeeding professionally, as publication credits would imply, why the devil am I having such a difficult time financially?”  She is the author of four books of poetry, three short story collections, a novel, a children’s book, and essays.

Shelley chronicles her attempts to make a living as a freelancer and radio advertising copywriter. She applied for six jobs every day as she couldn’t make ends meet. It’s heart wrenching that someone who writes like she does should have had to go through the humiliations of financial ruin.

Isn’t this the situation of many writers world over? Shelly brings in empathy for writers with this piece. For solutions, self-help books seem like a better bet. There has to be a way that writing can become more financially appealing as it is a craft and not a reason to be poor.

 

Language can never tell all- always some element of what you want to convey is lost on the page or the spaces between it. Dobby Gibson has expressed this disappearing act of language in a very engaging style in the essay Decomposition as a Spiritual Value in Poetry featured at The American Poetry Review.

“A word is elegy to what it signifies” wrote Robert Hass in his poem Meditation at Lagunitas and sure enough Gibson jumps to another reference as though to illustrate how fleeting meaning can be. He talks about a Korean delicacy kimchi- made out of the ferment or decomposition of vegetables and spices. Meaning can only be obtained from this fermentation or breakdown.

“Turning back to poetry, we can begin to see decomposition at work nearly everywhere. Decomposition can contribute to form. Think of Dickinson’s dashes. Williams’s white space. Saroyan’s deleted vowels, Komunyakaa’s ampersands. We can see revision as a process of decomposition. We draft the poem, and then we revise the poem, un-writing the original. We break a poem down and recycle its constituent parts. We drag a squeegee across the page and the poem we never intended to write —the better poem—reveals itself to us, or so we always hope.”

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Are there any links on the web that have enlightened you in a literary way?