Friday, 29 April 2016

Illogical Positivism: N M Browne

A J Ayer ( I think) made the point that there is nothing you can say that would disprove the existence of God to a person who believes in him: belief is unverifiable. (It’s a long time since I read his Language Truth and Logic but bear
with me on this.) Along the same lines there is nothing you can say to a writer that will make us satisfied: satisfaction is unattainable. Yeah, I know these two statements are only stylistically related, but in both cases there are no objective facts that can change the opinion of the believer or the writer. I’ll explain.
 If you write a book and you can’t sell either directly or to an agent/publisher then you are sad and believe you have no talent. Even your mother and best friend saying how much they love it is unlikely to change your mind. If you sell the book to the agent/publisher, but not to the top selling retail outlets you are still be sad and believe you have no talent. You tell yourself that your work is too classy to be commercial, but you don’t really believe it. If you sell the book to the agent/publisher, the top selling retail outlets and very few readers buy it then – yes, you can see where I’m going here – you are sad and believe you have no talent. You can blame the promotion, the cover design, the unfortunate release date and the declining attention spans of the populace who can’t take in anything longer than 140 characters but methinks you doth protest too much. Even writers who sell books by the shed-load to readers the world over are sad and believe they have no talent because they fail to gain literary prizes. Then the ones whose books have achieved everything, like the famous, castle-inhabiting writer of a mega selling children's series, think it’s all probably a bit of a fluke and try to write something else under an assumed name so that those books will fail to sell and then they can be sad and believe they have no talent. We are as a body a tragic, if self selecting, group.
Occasionally you meet arrogant writers who believe the opposite, but as a rule of thumb (in my humble opinion etc) pretty well everyone who does this is either American (and constitutionally obliged to be excessively confident,) a certain type of privileged male, and/or quasi illiterate. They are rarely right. Most writers who are any good, recognise all the ways they could be better and those who think they are brilliant, don’t really grasp what it is to be good. There will be exceptions and if you are an American, a certain type of man or quasi illiterate (and managing somehow to make it through this contorted prose) don’t have a go at me, I am already sad and know I have no talent. 
I am impressed by illogical positivism (You go girl! Yay!) but don't try to cheer me up. Once you have accepted the logic of negativity, it frees up a lot of time for writing.


Thursday, 28 April 2016

PALMYRA, COUNTERPOINT, CONSCIENCE - and a little girl.

Because it was on display for such a short time, on a picture-postcard Spring day I went to Trafalgar Square to see the Palmyra arch. I haven't posted an image, partly because there are so many online, but also because it would have been spoilt by so many people posing for selfies. The replica looked so startlingly new, but then as a colleague on Facebook so  wisely pointed out, that's how it would have looked when it was first built, only then it wouldn't have had the small missing bit at the top. I was surprised to find it so apparently, unprotected and open to the public, although there were one or two 'heavies' walking around.

Curious about Digital Archeology, I walked over to the information centres and had a look around. Apart from the technical stuff (which was fascinating - the amount of work that went into this project was phenomenal), there were two stacks of cards. On one, you could write a general message of peace etc in Syria; on the other, you could write messages that would be conveyed directly to the Syrian archeologists who'd been involved in this project. I did both. It was so moving, especially knowing what had been done to the elderly curator by Isis. If, ten or fifteen years ago, anyone had suggested the world might be involved in a major war based on religion and ancient gods, I think most people would have felt that this was the stuff of fantasy fiction. Now it's actually happening.

Last night, I watched the big Shakespeare bash from Stratford on Avon, on the bard's birthday. It was enjoyable, in spite of the fact that I dislike compilations and variety shows. The extract from MACBETH has been haunting me - it's the fact that, in spite of the fact that he's just committed bloody murder, he has a conscience, which is why he's suffering and will continue to suffer, as will Lady M eventually, and this got me wondering... if your culture allows, and even glories in, advocates, sadism and murder, might any literature at all come out of this (again thinking of Isis with its ghastly beheadings...) We're deeply involved with Macbeth because he's so human, so like us; without his ambition-driven actions and consequent remorse, there'd be no story. Did Hitler feel remorse? Did Stalin? Pol Pot? Many of the Roman emperors, and, more currently, Isis? It was Macbeth's immediate  horror at what he'd been forced to do which moved me last night.

I've very recently completed editing and revising a novel: 'COUNTERPOINT', which I first began writing twenty five years ago. It's been a very strange, and often painful, journey, communing with the writer I was then, so much fuller of passion and energy than the person writing this blog, and for the first time ever, I had the manuscript read, edited and criticised by a professional colleague who was interested enough, and kind enough, to offer. It was an enlightening experience. She picked up oddities I hadn't even noticed, and gave me a perspective which I could never have achieved for myself, however much I assumed I was doing so.  Her name is Rosalie Warren, and she's a very interesting, talented and unusual writer - do Google her latest book: LENA'S NEST, imagining a future in which the science of robotics has advanced beyond anything we have today (and we're certainly going that way).

'COUNTERPOINT' was accepted for publication back then, but for personal reasons I withdrew it. The prospective publisher had even sketched out a possible cover image, and written a publicity blurb, which I meant to post here but Blogger won't recognise it as an image. I'd decided to publish under a different name - Sian Lewis, which I may well still do. On the other hand, I have quite a track record as a children's author. Thoughts on this dilemma are most welcome.  And as there's no relevant image available, I'm posting one of my daughter aged around three and looking very thoughtful - not at all relevant, but rather nice (as it's black and white, you have to imagine her ginger hair). She is now one of the shakers and movers of Pipeline Theatre, based in Cornwall, which has just received yet another Arts Council grant. look out for these people in Edinburgh this year - they are seriously good.

 
 







 

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

A Small Memory of Victoria Wood - Andrew Crofts









Towards the end of the seventies I received a call from a publicity lady at the ICA, a small, artsy theatre venue in the Mall.

“We’re putting on a play called ‘Talent’ by a young writer called Victoria Wood and we wondered if you would like to interview her. You may have seen her singing funny songs on ‘New Faces’ or ‘That’s Life’. She’s playing one of the lead roles as well. Believe me, she’s going to be a huge star.”

Publicists always tell you that people who aren’t yet stars are going to be very soon, that’s their job, but it was a free ticket and seemed like a good contact, so I happily went along.

Needless to say the play was a gentle revelation and although the young Miss Wood was painfully shy and modest she managed to be a joy to interview. Hearing or seeing someone who is genuinely honest and funny is always life-enhancing. 

Playing back the interview afterwards, and then reading through her words once I had typed them up into an article for a women’s magazine, I actually found myself laughing out loud again; a pretty fair indicator that the publicity lady’s predictions were going to come true.

If Victoria Wood was the only thing that ever came out of the hundreds of thousands of hours of talent show television that the world has endured, it would still all have been worthwhile. 

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

How Do You Measure Time? by Ruby Barnes


How does your garden grow?

Dandelions are a curse for gardeners and right here, right now in Ireland, those yellow flowers are popping up all over my lawn. They elbow their way to the surface and push away the grass. Even if you dig them out they leave a muddy patch for the grass to re-colonise and Alfie the dog is likely to dig a fresh hole there as he loves the smell of dandelion roots. Yet, when Alfie and I take a stroll over the field across from our house, those same dandelions are delightful to look at, showing their sunny faces as a reminder that the long wet winter has passed. But can it already be a whole year since the last time they rose up, flowered and shook their seeds into the wind?

Perennial pests are a good reminder of our planet completing another solar orbit. I count car and house insurance policies in this category. The annual slap around the head of increasing car insurance premiums, which should surely be falling as I get older, can be mitigated by spreading them out monthly. Other anniversaries are less avoidable. Birthdays and feast days are there to let us know that we’ve put another ring on our trunk. As we age, we perversely seem to be sprinting around the sun compared to the way we drifted aimlessly through our early years as children. When the admin office at work calls to let me know my Easter egg from the social club is awaiting collection, I feel a twinge of sadness. One small chocolate egg closer to recycling. Two fun-sized Crunchie bars nearer to composting. Then I eat the chocolate and feel okay again.

We thought we'd never get there!

In our youth we wished our lives away. Days were counted down to mid-term break like a prisoner marking the wall of a cell. Alice Cooper delighted us with School’s Out for Summer, because to us it meant that school really was out for ever. The next school year was so far away, a whole summer distant. By that time life would be different, we might grow inches in height. People became distorted versions of their younger selves, things were changing so fast. We couldn’t wait ‘til the holidays, we couldn’t wait until some event or other. Sometimes we couldn’t wait until something had passed as the apprehension of an upcoming test or dentist appointment was too much to bear. Treasured toys, a favourite bicycle, those really cool jeans, all thrown away as we left them behind in our rush to grow up.

Today I pop a tablet out of the blister pack of thirty allergy pills and count another day. It shocks me when the blister pack is empty and another month has passed. I go to the box and pull out another packet, thinking it might be time to place my annual order. I could try and stretch them out, to go without for a few days – the worst that would happen is a sinus infection. But planet Earth would continue to spin at a thousand miles an hour, orbiting the Sun at 70,000 miles per hour. The meter of Life’s taxi would continue to run.
 
I've perfected reading the time backwards

Somewhere between today and youth there must have been a point of equilibrium, a point where the passage of time felt bearable. A day in passing felt like a day’s worth of Life. But, like the highest point of a hill, it’s often difficult to tell when you’re on the spot unless you have the benefit of a view from a distance. I accept that I can’t slow the passage of time. The impression that time is speeding up is purely an illusion, perhaps caused by increasing familiarity of events. So I try to pack my life with new and different things, to dilute the familiarity. Each passage of a year makes me groan, but recollection of the things done and said in that same 365 days makes me smile. 

How is time passing for you? Do you feel each grain of sand or is it all a blur?

Monday, 25 April 2016

Publishing with CreateSpace by Susan Price

Every Electric Author should be publishing paperbacks with Createspace. I know a lot of us already are - and although they won't need this blog, they might chip in, correct me where I'm wrong, add a few hints and wrinkles of their own.
          I don't claim any great expertise - what I know I've learned by having a go, failing and failing better. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that I am making some very obvious mistakes. My hope for this post is simply that it will make the process seem more familiar for those who haven't used Createspace before and so take some of the fear out of it.

          Why should we all be publishing with Createspace?

Well, I'll take last month, March, as an example. It wasn't my best sales month. During March, I sold 6 Kindle books in total, in all markets, though several more of my books were read for free (with Amazon making a small payment to me from a central fund, rather as PLR works.)

         In the same month, through Createspace, I sold 21 paperback books - that's three and a half times as many, in a poor month, as on Kindle. I made a greater profit on each book too.
         In November 2015, I published a picture book with my brother, The Runaway Chapatti.  It has been selling at a rate, roughly, of one a day since publication. In March, not its best month, it still sold 15 copies. This may be far from putting us both on Easy Street, but no e-book of mine has sold as well. (These 15 copies are not included in the 21 mentioned above, since the Chapatti is sold from my brother's account, not mine.)
The Wolf's Footprint, by Susan Price
          My paperback of The Wolf's Footprint, is selling steadily and well. One day last month, I happened to be logging into Createspace every hour or so, because I was road-testing a new picture book on the C/S virtual book.
     At 11am my dashboard showed that I'd sold one copy of Footprint.
     At 5pm that one copy had become eleven copies. Somewhere in Britain, someone had bought ten copies at once. Who knows why? - someone with a large extended family of children, stocking up for birthdays? A schoolteacher spending her own money on books for her class (I've been told that most schools aren't 'allowed' to buy from Amazon.) A bookshop? It's impossible to know, but it's not the first time that Footprint has sold several copies at a time like this.
          We forget, in all the excitement of e-books, that the majority of books sold are still paper books - and some people buy both paper and e-copies.

The Basics

          Here are the basics I've learned about putting a book on Createspace, as a POD (Print On Demand) paperback. If my instructions sometimes seem too obvious, then it's because I'm deliberately being as obvious as possible. Sometimes it's a tiny detail that it's assumed you'll figure out for yourself which, in fact, frustrates you until you give up.
          I've made the illustrations very large, so they're easy to see. This will make them overlap the blog's sidebar. Apologies for that.

         Although Createspace is 'Amazon' it operates as a separate company, so you have to go to the site and open a free account with them, just as you did with Kindle.
         Once your account is open, you have your 'Member Dashboard.' At the top left corner of your screen, under 'Amazon company' it says 'Member Dashboard' and under that, 'Add New Title.' I've circled it in red. Click 'Add New Title' to start your new book.
     
   This brings you to this screen, the 'Project Homepage':-


 Be calm. All those columns full of writing may seem confusing. Worry not. You need only be concerned, for now, with the highlighted column second from the left.
     Click on the first line in the column, 'Title Information.' That will open a form to fill in. Enter your book's title, your name, and so on.



          If your book is part of a series, or a projected series, tick the box 'This book is part of series.' Insert the volume number (is it book 1, 2, 3 or higher?) If you do this, then Amazon will flag up the other books in your series when it's published.

          When you've completed the form, look at the column on the left. It remains the same all through the process of setting up your 'project' or book.

          You can deal with the items in the column now - or you can tackle them later. As long as you complete them all before you submit your book for pre-publication review, that's okay.

           Click on 'ISBN,' and it takes you to a page where you can either enter your own ISBN number, or accept a free one from Createspace. If you accept Createspace's ISBN, it simplifies matters, and it's free. It also makes your books available for sale to libraries in the USA, if that prospect interests you.
          However, it also means that Createspace become your publishers and you can only obtain copies of your books through Createspace. Copyright still remains with you, and you can 'retire' your book whenever you want. (You have to contact Createspace to do this.) If you're happy with this, click the button for a C/S ISBN.

           If you choose to have your own ISBN, you will have to pay for a block of them. It will be more expensive, but you will be free to have your books printed by any local printer. You buy them from Nielsen, in the UK.  If you do this, then you enter your ISBN on this page.

          Click on 'Interior' and it takes you to this page:-


     Here is where you choose whether your book will be black and white or full colour and what kind of paper it will be printed on - cream or white. Just click in the circles beside your choice.
     You also choose your 'trim size' or what size your book will be. Amazon recommends 6 inches by 9 inches or 'trade paperback.' (Amazon deals in inches.) This, according to Ammie is the most popular size with 'the widest distribution options' which is good enough for me. However if you dislike that size - and I know that some people do - click the 'Choose a Different Size' button and you will be offered several others.
      This is the screen you get when you 'Choose A Different Size.'


          Have a tape-measure on stand-by! Look at all the different sizes and decide which you want. For our picture books, the brothers and me chose the largest size Amazon offers, the 8-5 inches by 11 inches. (Always remember that Amazon uses inches, not the centimetres we've become used to.)
          There are a couple of useful buttons at the bottom of the lit square. The dark blue button at bottom right, 'More Sizes' takes you to some square options, though they're all around 8 inches square, give or take.
          The Compare all sizes [click here to be taken to it] link takes you to a visual comparison of the different sizes and also gives the measurements in centimetres.

        When you've decided which size you want, click on it and you will be taken back to the Interior page, with your choice of trim size in place.

          The next thing to do, if you're going it alone, is to download a template. I've outlined in red where you click to do this:


          Download a FORMATTED template. It will be already formatted to your book's trim size. It has pages for a list of contents, acknowledgements and copyright.
          As you add chapters, the template will automatically add page numbers.
          Once you have the template downloaded, you can treat it much as you would any Word document you've created yourself. Rename the file with the title of your book, so you can find it easily.
          Here's what it looks like. I've turned on the 'pilcrow' so you can see the 'end page' and 'end section' formatting. I've also circled the pilcrow so you can find it easily - it's that backwards 'P' character on your toolbar. It's useful to have it turned on at least some of the time while you're formatting. Then you can see where the format codes are.


     Those big pilcrows after 'Book' and 'Title' are formatting marks - as is the trail after 'Author Name' and at the bottom of the copyright page. Turn off the pilcrow (circled in red on the toolbar above) and they will disappear. They won't appear in the final published book either, but they control the book's spacing.
        I also have Word's 'Navigation' pane turned on, to the left. I've found this very useful for keeping track of where I am in a book. For instance, it helps me find the start of each chapter or story, so I can add the correct page number to the Contents page, without having to constantly scroll through the book or type words into the search engine.

         To add your book's title, treat this template as you would any Word document. Put your cursor at the start of 'Book' and type in your own title. Either use 'insert' to overwrite, or delete 'Book' afterwards. If you want your title on one line, then delete 'Title.'
          Follow the same procedure to turn 'Author Name' into your name.
          For the copyright page, copy your copyright information from another book and insert in place of Amazon's copyright. To change font-size and line spacing, highlight and use your Word toolbar as you would in your own Word documents.

          There is a space for an ISBN. Write in your own, if you have one, or the one Amazon has provided. If you forget, Amazon will insert a 'courtesy ISBN' when you send your book off in the 'complete set-up' stage. This is fine if you always wanted a free Amazon ISBN. If you didn't, you have to delete Amazon's and type in your own before publication, or you'll be stuck with Amazon as your publisher.

          Below, this is what the chapters look like in your template:


         The template comes with ten of these chapters, and then some pages formatted for 'back matter' such as 'About the Author.'
          What if your book has more than 10 chapters? Our own Chris Longmuir passed on a useful tip - before you start inserting chapters, work out how many formatted chapters you need. Then copy extra chapters FROM THE MIDDLE of the template.
          For instance, if your book has 21 chapters, then copy the formatted chapters 3-9. Insert the copies at the end of the Amazon-supplied Chapter 10. You now have 17 formatted chapters, with some of them duplicated.
          Add the copied chapters again. Now you have 24 formatted chapters. Go through and change the chapter numbering so they read 1-24, and you don't get confused. This gives you enough formatting to include all your chapters, plus a few spares.

          If you're using Word's Navigation Pane, highlight your chapter headings and click HEADER 1. The chapters will all appear down the left hand side, in Navigation Pane and you'll be able to click on any one of them and jump straight to that place in your file. (Doing this will make each chapter title huge, initially, and they will all jump to the left - but you can change their size, font and position using your usual Word tools. The Nav-Pane hyperlink will remain and it's very useful.)

          Each chapter is headed
[Number] [Chapter Name]
 You don't have to stick with this if you don't like it. If you just want a number, then delete Chapter Name.
          If you want 'Chapter 1' and then the name on a separate line, go ahead and alter it in Word, then save.
          If your book is a collection of short stories and you just want the story's title and no chapter heading, then alter it. Whatever changes you make, make sure that each chapter/story heading is in the same style.

          Each chapter or story is then inserted separately. You can't enter an entire book in one go, because of the formatting for each chapter break.
          So go to your proof-read, finished master document.  Highlight and copy the entirety of chapter one or the first story - without its chapter heading. Place your cursor in your formatted template, on the first line of 'Insert chapter one text here...'  Paste.
          The whole of your first chapter or story will appear.
          Delete all of the 'Insert chapter one text here...' filler - being careful not to overrun and delete part of Chapter Two.
          If you wish, you can now use Word tools to highlight the whole of your chapter and change the font and font-size. You can also fully justify the text.
          You may have to insert paragraph indents. Don't use 'Tab.' Copy five spaces and paste them in where necessary. If you have the Pilcrow turned on, you can more easily see where your paragraphs end.
          Repeat for every chapter or story. It's less tedious to do this in bursts of one or two chapters and take a break before you tackle the next few.
          When all your chapters are in the book, delete any spares, and add your 'back matter,' which probably means 'About the Author.'
       
          Now to go back to the front of the book and tackle the 'Contents' page. It will look like this:

           It is formatted as columns so, as you alter it, place your cursor on each separate column - that is, click in the far left column to change the chapter number, click in the central column to change the chapter name (or story name) and click in the right-hand column to change the page number.
           If you don't want an 'Acknowledgement' then change it to 'Introduction' or 'Foreword' - or delete it.
          It's when adding the page numbers that Navigation Pane becomes useful.
          The screenshot below shows my computer, with the Word programme open. I have my book, Overheard In A Graveyard up on screen. This is a file formatted in one of Createspace's formatted templates. It's a Word file, and I'm treating it exactly like any other Word file.
          Word's 'Navigation Pane' is turned on at the left. (To find Navigation Pane, AKA Document Map, look in Word's 'View' menu.



          You can see that I inserted my own fonts for the title - Vivaldi for the capitals and Times Roman Italic for the rest. I've since decreased the spacing between the lines. (This works with Createspace, but won't translate to Kindle - unless, perhaps, you inserted the title as a graphic.)

          To the left, in Navigation Pane, all the headings are the title of the stories in the book. They are also hyperlinks which, when clicked on, jump straight to that place in the file. So it's easy for me to jump from the Contents page to, say, the first page of the fourth story, Mow Top, and find out what page it starts on. Then I click on 'Contents' to return to that page and insert the page-number against the story. This saves a lot of time in scrolling up and down, or in typing words into 'search.'

          When you have your book's interior as you want it, you return to Createspace and your Member Dashboard, click on your book's 'Project Homepage' and then the 'Interior' page. This time, you're looking to upload your file.

          Above, I've outlined in blue where you do this. Click in the circle and a 'browse' box appears.


Click on 'browse' and a window opens showing the contents of your computer. Locate the file you want to upload, click on it, and then click 'Open.'
          It may not be immediately obvious what to do next, especially if you're working with a small screen, such as a laptop or tablet. What you do is, scroll down the page until you see a SAVE button on the right. Click on 'Save.' Createspace will then start uploading and converting your file. It may take several minutes.
          Once it's saved, you get to play with the 'book reviewer.' You'll see the screen below:-

This is offering to proof my book, The Drover's Dogs. Click on the large blue button 'Launch Interior Reviewer.' You will see something like this screen:-


          Click on the pale blue button at the bottom of the square card: 'Get Started.'
          Then you get this:-


          See the arrow at the right-hand side of the 'book'? Click on that with your mouse and you turn the book's pages. You can see how your book will look when published. You can catch out lines and pages that end before they should. You can see that the title-pages/ copyright-page/ contents page fall where you want them. If they don't, go back to your master-file on your computer and make changes.
          Delete extra pages that you don't want, add blank pages, if needed. Correct typos.
          If you can't see why, for instance, a page ends in mid-sentence, turn on the pilcrow so that you can see the formatting. There may be an 'end page' or 'end section' formatting which you need to delete.
          When you've done your corrections, load the book up and check it again. You can upload your book as many times as you like, and play with the virtual book as many times as you like. Amazon takes its cut from the money you earn when your book is sold. (And their cut is tiny.)
          If you look in the top right hand corner of the screen above, you'll see this:-


The familiar magnifying glass symbols, if clicked on, allow you to reduce or enlarge your view of your book. If you click on the grid of squares, you get this view, displaying your book as a gallery:-


          This is useful in the later stages of proofing, when you want to skip quickly to a particular page to check on something or, perhaps, check the appearance of each chapter heading. Click on any page in the gallery and that page will load in 'book' view.
          When you've uploaded your book a few times, and you're happy with it, click 'save and continue' at the bottom of the page.

          After that, all you have to worry about is designing the cover. Here's a rough for a new cover design for my ghost-story collection, Overheard In A Graveyard.

       
          That is, of course, a whole new set of problems.

Susan Price is the Carnegie Medal winning author of The Ghost Drum and the Guardian Prize winning The Sterkarm Handshake (which is to be republished this summer.)

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Blatant marketing, with good reason.

I don't often use this post for blatant marketing. My hope is to entertain, or make you think - if only for a moment. If anyone is inspired to follow the links and buy a book, well that's a bonus.

So please bear with me, just this once. You'll see why.

You can't have missed the news about recent earthquakes. This time last year is was Nepal. Recently there have been two huge quakes in Japan, followed by a third in Ecuador. Each time there are pictures of collapsed buildings, exhausted men and women digging in the rubble in the hope of pulling one person out alive. Anyone who survives under the stones and the dust for longer than a day or so is celebrated.

Do we, from the comfort of our sofas, grow immune to such disasters? Do we see so many that we forget that these are people just like us, with children and dreams. People who work and play and squabble over what to watch on the telly. People who want nothing more than family around them, food to eat - and a roof over their heads.

It's easy to be overwhelmed by such thinking. The extent of the obvious need is so huge that it's easier to turn away. After all, we can't do anything about it, can we?

We can't stop the earth quaking. We can't fly across the world and pull people from the rubble. We can't rebuild a city, or even a small town.

But all the profits, every single penny, from After the Earthquake is going towards rebuilding a home in a village in Nepal. We've already raised enough money to rebuild one house - so there is one family who no longer live among the rubble. Now for a second - this time for an older couple who spent the monsoon in a tent. (Can you bear to imagine that?)

So you see, we can do something. It's a small thing, but if we all do it, then we can make a huge difference.

(And if you want to read my other stuff, you can find it at www.jocarroll.co.uk

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Lev Butts Is a Literary Geek

I find myself on the road this month. I am at a conference in Bowling Green, Kentucky, celebrating the work of Robert Penn Warren. I had every intention of writing the final instalment of my Metafictional Comic Countdown, but when I sat down to write it here in my hotle room, I realized two things:

1. My notes were sitting on my desk half a country away, and

2. Prince died.

Seriously, if God doesn't cut this out, we're all going to have to kill ourselves just hear good music.
Never fear, though, I have a column for you. It's one I have kept on file for just such an occasion.
It's another one of those social media questionnaires that come across my Facebook page periodically.

This one seems particularly appropriate for this site. It is called: 

Are you a Literary Geek?

1) What author do you own the most books by?

I have seven or more by several authors:Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Penn Warren, Neil Gaiman, Joseph Heller, John Irving, Stephen King, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Richard Monaco.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?

The Bible (in the South even atheists have multiple copies of the good book) and Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men (I have a hardbound copy of the 1946 original version and of the much inferior and dubious "Restored" edition, as well as several paperback copies of the 1946 version)

Pay no attention to the version on the right.
3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Not really, no.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

I don't believe that I am secretly in love with any fictional character, though if she were much older, Neil Gaiman's Coraline would be really fun to hang out with.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children)?

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (because lets be honest: it's really one long novel divided into three books {four of you count The Hobbit}), and Parsival by Richard Monaco

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?

The Hardy Boys books

This one was always my favorite.
7) What is the most boring book you've read in the past year?

Demian by Hermann Hesse

Author's Note: This questionnaire was originally filled out some time ago. I have to admit that the most boring book I've read this year is The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane.

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?
World Enough and Time by Robert Penn Warren

Author's Note: as stated above, this is a bit outdated. I'd have to say Michael Pitre's Fives and Twenty-Fives has that honor now. It is additionally the best war novel I have ever read (and I kind of hate war novels, so that should tell you something. Seriously, do yourself a favor and buy this book. ).

Well, do Pitre a favor buying the book; do yourself a favor by reading it.

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?


Neil Gaiman, Michael Pitre, or me

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Author's Note: Apparently since I originally filled this questionnaire out, Stars has greenlit a television series based on this book and it is currently in production. I cannot wait to see it.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

The Apocrypha

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.

T. S. Eliot wearing a very nice suit and offering me a variety of cheese slices for my gastronomic pleasure.

Stay out of my head, Joss Whedon.
14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?
I am currently reading my way through all the Star Wars novels in chronological order. 

Author's Note: I am still trying to do this, even though Disney made all the novels noncanon two years ago, reducing three bookshelves in my office to little more than glorified fan-fiction.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?

I tried to read Ulysses by James Joyce, but I never made it past page three.

You just keep on being you, Jimmy boy.
16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?
I haven't, but I did see a pretty bizarre version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead at Dad's Garage Theater in Atlanta a few years ago in which the roles were all gender-swapped and the soundtrack was the Morphine album Good.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?

Brits

18) Roth or Updike?
John Irving

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
Neil Gaiman

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?

Tom Stoppard

21) Austen or Eliot?

William Faulkner

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?

I am missing several pages from my paperback copy of The Sound and the Fury.

23) What is your favorite novel?

I have a few: All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, Parsival by Richard Monaco, and American Gods by Neil Gaiman

24) Play?
Shakespeare's Hamlet, Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and Tom Stoppard's Arcadia

25) Poem?

Brother to Dragons by Robert Penn Warren

If it has a cleaver on the cover, it has to be good.
26) Essay?

"What I Did on My Summer Vacation"

27) And... what are you reading right now?


At Heaven's Gate by Robert Penn Warren; a textual history of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit; "Farmer Giles of Ham" by Tolkien; and Street of Shadows, a hard-boiled detective novel set in the Star Wars universe after Revenge of the Sith.

Author's Note:  I am now reading The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan, The Horror at Red Hook by H. P. Lovecraft, Wracked by Louis Puster, and I am about to begin Caitlin Kiernan's Threshold.

Anyway, if I can stay off the road, and if the good Lord will will stop calling my childhood idols home, I promise to finish my countdown next month.

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