Ego, a writer's engine

In the course of 40 years, Spanish journalist and editor Juan Cruz has found that “passion and vocation” move writers, but what “moves them most of all are their egos,” the theme of his new book “Egos Revueltos” (Scrambled Egos), because “envy is one of the great defects of the literary world.”

In his role as editor, Juan Cruz has encountered egos of every kind, but perhaps “the biggest” he found was that of Cela, Nobel laureate for literature, “because he had no one to put him down, everyone around him constantly flattered him, he would laugh a thank-you in reply and loved every minute of it.”

Nonetheless, the author of “La Colmena” (The Hive) was “a very lonely man and much more sentimental and vulnerable than he appeared. He was timid and overcame his timidity with arrogance. But it wasn’t a vacuum-packed arrogance, because he was a great writer,” Cruz said.

Another who had “a very abundant ego” was Octavio Paz. “Paz was not a humble man, nor did he think it appropriate to hide his greatness behind false modesty.” He spoke “with the confidence of an authority” and his immense culture and wisdom were undeniable, but “he had a decided tendency to believe that there were few like him in the history of the 20th century.”

Uruguayan writer Mario Benedetti was thought of as modest, but he had “an irritable ego: it remained suspended until some spark made it blaze.” MORE


Walmartization of Literature

Another step toward Walmartization of literature:

"The Faber Academy Toronto, slated to open in October, will offer a selection of long and short fiction and poetry courses and employ notable Canadian writers as instructors.

Faber hasn’t yet confirmed either avenue or course list for Toronto, but Keogh said they plan to keep to the European tradition of offering “unique literary experiences in inspired, independent settings.” The Faber Academy will join other creative writing classes in the city, such as the popular programs at Humber College and the University of Toronto." source

Here's a tip for a quick way to become published: take any "creative" writing course. You will write exactly the kind of book expected and understood by literary agents and editors who took a similar course. Do it if your only goal is to become published, and you don't mind falling into oblivion amongst a plethora of clones, or don't expect to be added to literary canon. For the latter, you have to break the rules.

Are literary awards justified?

Some people feel that the newest literary award, the Tagore Samsung Literary Award is more about the corporate giant than about literature, but what about literary prizes awarded by one's peers?

"Let us readers and authors take a look at the books that have won literary awards these past few years. Writing about these books’ merits and demerits, and of writing standards in general, one journalist said these works did not qualify to go beyond “the fundamental phase of initial screening”.

Reading through these award-winning books, one wonders how they made it to the top. One finds no substance, no literary value of any kind. Also, there seems to be a total disregard for style and grammar, and scant regard for literary theory.

We see the use of coarse and crude words and phrases that are totally inappropriate for books of any genre. Peppered with crudities, these books are unreadable and drag literature down to its lowest depth.

Most book awards trigger controversy involving money, publishers and cartels. Take a look at the book awards scenario. Prize-winning authors become judges, judges become authors. Who helps whom? Names seem to matter more than writing skills." MORE

Whom are you wearing?

Now, when asked Whom are you wearing today? you can answer: Gabriel García Márquez:

"The exhibition entitled "20 suits for Europe. Designers converse with literature" is the creative result of twenty designers from Spain, Belgium and Hungary being inspired by the works of other Spanish, Belgian and Hungarian writers and poets.

This multidisciplinary and transnational context gives the exhibition an additional artistic element, as well as a marked European flavour, providing a metaphor for the constant exchange experienced by Europe's citizens and its cultural diversity.

The creative exhibits of "20 suits for Europe" are from twenty designers: twelve Spanish, four Belgian and four Hungarian. They were commissioned to 'dress' the prose and poetry of another twenty Belgian, Hungarian and Spanish writers in an initiative that goes beyond fashion and literature. It is a clear example of the dialogue between the arts that defines today's society." MORE


Literary Carnival

World's most famous Carnival kicks off on a literary note:

The world of Don Quixote was recreated in Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome by the União da Ilha samba school, which opened the parades with representations of Miguel de Cervantes’ masterpiece.

União da Ilha (Union of the Island) led off with a parade entitled “Don Quixote of La Mancha – the gentleman of impossible dreams” as its entry for the Carnival title.

“Don Quixote is enchanting for the madness of fighting for ideals that reason has no part of,” the artistic director of União da Ilha, Rosa Magalhaes, said in explanation of their chosen theme. MORE


Something Red for Valentine's Day

I thought it only fitting to pick something red on Valentine's Day, so I went for Reds, Warren Beatty's classic film. I remember watching it as a kid, and am happy to report that it holds its ground.

Fascinating roster of witnesses, some very high profile, and familiar names make this movie irresistible. At a time it came out, with Ronald Reagan on the throne, it was thought audacious of Beatty to release it and predictions of it falling into oblivion were quick to follow. Well, were they wrong! The movie is ranked among ten best.

It is about politics, but it has an important message that outlives any political strifes: hope, and what happens to people when hope dies and all that's left is hype.



Classic espionage literature

I like to read with a virgin mind. I do not read book reviews if I can avoid it, none, ever. I try to avoid blurb too. I don't write any either (sorry to all those fellow writers who asked). Occasionally I will come across a review when it sneaks its way in front of my eyes, as this one did. It made me want to look up the book, and I downloaded it from free, from Gutenberg. Reading it now.

"Espionage has become so sophisticated and hi-tech that it's difficult to believe that this, the greatest of all spy stories, was published more than a century ago when agents relied on wits rather than gadgets. Set against the background of the Great Game being played between Britain and Russia on the north-west frontier after the second Afghan war, it tells the story of an 11-year-old orphan boy who looks and sounds like a native but beneath his filthy rags is white. Kim, né Kimball O'Hara, wears his Irish soldier father's ID round his neck and survives by running errands for a wily Pashtun horse trader with an ancient Islamic proverb to suit every occasion. "Children should not see a carpet on the loom until the pattern is made plain," he advises, his great red beard wagging solemnly. What Kim doesn't know is that his mentor is also a "chain man" or spy for the British. Mahbub Ali's constant travels through the subcontinent, selling horses to army officers and maharajahs, affords the perfect cover. How Kim, travelling with a holy lama in search of the sacred river, meets Colonel Creighton, who recognises his unique qualifications and talents and sends him to a mysterious spymaster to learn the secrets of espionage, is riveting. Adventures aside, Kipling's descriptions of India, its exotic people and places, are awesome, as are Sharma's seemingly inexhaustible collection of accents British and Indian – in Kim's case, a subtle mixture of both. No mean feat."


How to behead your wife

Peculiar carving on one of the doors to the Cathedral in Cuernavaca:

Husband beheading an unfaithful wife?

Leo Tolstoy on military life

Colonel Russell Williams, commander of one of Canada's largest military bases stands accused of multiple murders and sexual assaults.

People wonder how a decorated soldier, who mingled with the imperial regime (Williams gave a tour of the base to government apparatchiks shortly before his arrest), could do such a thing?

The great Leo Tolstoy, who served in the imperial wars, knows what military life is all about. Tolstoy writes in his best novel, Resurrection:

"Military life in general depraves men. It places them in conditions of complete idleness, i.e., absence of all useful work; frees them of their common human duties, which it replaces by merely conventional ones to the honour of the regiment, the uniform, the flag; and, while giving them on the one hand absolute power over other men, also puts them into conditions of servile obedience to those of higher rank than themselves.

But when, to the usual depraving influence of military service with its honours, uniforms, flags, its permitted violence and murder, there is added the depraving influence of riches and nearness to and intercourse with members of the Imperial family, then this depraving influence creates in the men who succumb to it a perfect mania of selfishness."


eBook revolution benefits readers AND writers

Quill and Quire points out to the oncoming revolution that e-books are about to bring to what we read and write.

With the growing onslaught of e-readers and e-books, will readers see a shift in the average length of new books? Might we see longer books, because publishers are no longer constrained by the costs and sheer weight of a War and Peace-sized tome? Or will there be a deluge of novellas by authors freed from the pressure of writing a book of a certain length?

As a writer you cannot look at it without your heart beating stronger. Do you smell it? Yes, that's what creative freedom smells like, it's the lack of constraints. Today, if your write and want to publish in North America (particularly when you write genre fiction), you have to ensure that your novel fulfills certain requirements. Unfamiliar with the North American publishing model? Think of it as a chain store, for instance HomeDepot -- big box, but in reality very limited choice. Call it uniformity. It comprises several points: broadly, if vaguely defined quality, book length, title, characters, even setting. These are all part of the scheme that you have to employ if you want to be considered for publication. At least one of those may be waved now and become irrelevant as far as production costs vs profit are concerned: book length. You may be able to forget the 100,000 word requirement, forget about filling blanks with scenery descriptions and pronouns. You can let your creativity reign, and pour out of you, even if it works out to "only" 70,000 words.

From a reader's standpoint, this is just as important. Were you putting away all seven volumes of Marcel Proust's classic, or that bulky War and Peace, afraid that they won't fit into your holiday suitcase, or on the subway? This all becomes irrelevant now. You can fit thousands more into your pocket, and it won't break your back. Do you like to read several books simultaneously, few pages here, few pages there? Good news: now you can carry your entire library with you, and dive into it anytime, wherever you are.

Welcome revolution. Welcome Che... I mean: eReader!


Seeking publication not for the faint of heart

How badly do you want to  be published?

It is a ruthless game, yet first time authors still get published every day. According to Martin and Flacco, "there were 275,232 new titles and editions published by some 86,000 publishers in 2008, 75 percent of which were nonfiction titles. Another 285,394 print-on-demand titles were produced in 2008, making the total number of new or revised book titles in excess of 550,000."

The passage to publishing is well known to those seeking discovery: Writing the first draft, attending literary conferences, creating the dreaded proposal, attempting to build a "platform" and sending the crackerjack query letter. Each step seems more formidable than the last. Scratch the surface of a " yet to be published" author and you will uncover an assorted bundle of resentment and jealousy for authors whose published books they deem less worthy and a modicum of encouragement from tales of those who were finally published after receiving hundreds of rejections.

In the highly competitive world of getting published, rejection is the chief annihilator of first time authors. If one can learn to deal with rejection that comes from agents as well as publishers, they may feel less victimized. MORE


Writing and politics don't mix

Krishna Sobti joins the roster of authors who declined various literary awards, sheds light on the politics of awards:

Sobti, the grande dame of Hindi literature, told The Indian Express from her Delhi home, “As a writer, I have to keep a distance from the establishment. I think I did the right thing.”

Sobti said an official from the Home Ministry had, as is the norm, contacted her three or four days before the announcement of the awards to inform her she had been chosen. “I told him, ‘let us stop this right here’. I did not want to create a din later, after the awards had been publicly announced. Then on the morning of January 25, I again got a call from the Ministry. The official said, ‘The nation wants to honour you.’ I told him, ‘Thank you very much. That’s very nice. But I am already honoured, I’m a Sahitya Akademi Fellow. That is the biggest recognition for a writer.’”  MORE

eBook revolution fails foreign writers

All this talk about the Internet being a great democratizer of ideas, access, and reach proves meaningless for writers who create in languages other than English:

“Translations from Estonian are published mostly either by universities or by small publishing houses, and that brings fame and glory, but hardly any money.

E-books aren’t changing this much: the distribution opportunities change only in theory, because the language barrier doesn’t just disappear. On the contrary: The Internet is actually bolstering the role of English.

The chances that anyone apart from a couple of Estonians living in exile will read an Estonian-language book are next to zero. MORE


Why proprietary e-Readers must die

The British Library will offer tens of thousands of public domain books for download. You can read them too... if you have a Kindle.
MORE than 65,000 19th-century works of fiction from the British Library’s collection are to be made available for free downloads by the public from this spring.

Owners of the Amazon Kindle, an ebook reader device, will be able to view well known works by writers such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy, as well as works by thousands of less famous authors.

The library’s ebook publishing project, funded by Microsoft, the computer giant, is the latest move in the mounting online battle over the future of books.

While some other services, such as Google Books, offer out-of-copyright works to be downloaded for free, users of the British Library service will be able to read from pages in the original books in the library’s collection. MORE

And that's why we do not need or want any proprietary technology. Give us the books without any conditions!

Jane Austen

Guerilla literacy movement

Just hearing this makes your heart grow by at least two sizes:

The movement was founded by a group of journalists and social activists in 1975 to popularise literature among people in rural areas. “In those days, Marathi books were published only in big cities like Mumbai and Pune. Publishers ignored the rural areas. Granthali was formed in a bid to make books available to people in the rural areas,” says Sudesh Hinglaspurkar, one of the trustees.

Granthali borrows books from publishers of Marathi books and conducts exhibitions in rural areas. “So far, we have conducted around 800 such exhibitions and the response has been overwhelming. Educated people in the rural areas of Maharashtra were never exposed to this kind of literary movement and they welcomed our efforts wholeheartedly.” MORE


e-Reader owners like their gizmos

Market research survey results:

E-Reader satisfaction is high among owners, according to a new report e-Reader Owners: Attitudes and Usage from leading market research company The NPD Group.  Almost all owners (93 percent) said they were “very satisfied” or “somewhat satisfied” with their device.  Only 2 percent of owners expressed any level of dissatisfaction.

Features are important to e-Reader owners.  According to the report, 60 percent of owners said wireless access was their favorite feature on their e-Reader; touch was mentioned by 23 percent of owners. [...]

Even with great features, e-Reader owners are still looking for more in these relatively new and still evolving devices. Some recommended improvements from owners include more book title availability, longer battery life, and color screens at 42 percent, 39 percent, and 34 percent respectively.  Content is important, and while almost half (46 percent) of owners said they were mostly satisfied with the selection of titles for their e-Reader devices, only 39 percent said they could find every title they were looking for.

But it seems that e-Reader owners aren’t married to their e-Readers to do their reading.  About three-in-ten owners say they use at least one another device for reading e-books, such as a PC or a smartphone. MORE HERE


Your Facebook 'Friend' is a spy

The average person usually joins social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter to get to know others better. However, as the Dutch secret services AIVD (General Intelligence and Security Service) and MIVD (Military Intelligence and Security Service) point out, people should be careful when placing information on their personal sites.
Intelligence agencies often use social networking sites for more sinister purposes. On Friday, the Dutch intelligence agencies began a campaign to warn of the dangers of digital espionage. They say that foreign intelligence services often use these sites to gather information about people.

The intelligence services have published three brochures to inform potential target groups about the dangers. The brochure on 'digital espionage' describes the dangers of infected emails, visiting infected websites and how infected USB sticks are sometimes handed out as promotional gifts at conferences. In addition, social networking sites such as Facebook can also be an interesting source of information for foreign intelligence services.

“You do not have to avoid using Facebook, Hyves [a Dutch social networking site] and other similar sites, but you should keep in mind that they are available to third parties. Espionage is not something from thirty years ago. It is something which exists today in many different forms, and especially in the digital world.” READ MORE


Social Media and Authors

Toronto Social Media Week concentrates on digital book marketing:

McFadden emphasized how valuable it can be for authors to market their books online during the pre-publication process, using Twitter and Facebook to reach a very specific audience. Instead of reaching readers through traditional book reviews and ads, readers can now find out about the writing process of authors, and in some cases, even their personality. [...]

What about the perils of Twitter? McFadden warned that while authors should feel free to tweet as they please, they must remember there can be consequences – for instance, she advises authors to keep their feelings about a negative review in check, no matter how angry you feel at the time. [...]

More Here: http://bit.ly/arK9U3


How to write with authority on any subject

I haven't had this much fun reading a book in a long time. I was laughing gregariously in a public space, and I learned something in the process. Here are some tips shared by one the world's foremost literary classics.

"With regard to adding annotations at the end of the book, you may safely do it in this way. If you mention any giant in your book contrive that it shall be the giant Goliath, and with this alone, which will cost you almost nothing, you have a grand note, for you can put—The giant Golias or Goliath was a Philistine whom the shepherd David slew by a mighty stone-cast in the Terebinth valley, as is related in the Book of Kings—in the chapter where you find it written.

"Next, to prove yourself a man of erudition in polite literature and cosmography, manage that the river Tagus shall be named in your story, and there you are at once with another famous annotation, setting forth—The river Tagus was so called after a King of Spain: it has its source in such and such a place and falls into the ocean, kissing the walls of the famous city of Lisbon, and it is a common belief that it has golden sands, etc. If you should have anything to do with robbers, I will give you the story of Cacus, for I have it by heart; if with loose women, there is the Bishop of Mondonedo, who will give you the loan of Lamia, Laida, and Flora, any reference to whom will bring you great credit; if with hard-hearted ones, Ovid will furnish you with Medea; if with witches or enchantresses, Homer has Calypso, and Virgil Circe; if with valiant captains, Julius Caesar himself will lend you himself in his own 'Commentaries,' and Plutarch will give you a thousand Alexanders. If you should deal with love, with two ounces you may know of Tuscan you can go to Leon the Hebrew, who will supply you to your heart's content; or if you should not care to go to foreign countries you have at home Fonseca's 'Of the Love of God,' in which is condensed all that you or the most imaginative mind can want on the subject. In short, all you have to do is to manage to quote these names, or refer to these stories I have mentioned, and leave it to me to insert the annotations and quotations, and I swear by all that's good to fill your margins and use up four sheets at the end of the book.

"Now let us come to those references to authors which other books have, and you want for yours. The remedy for this is very simple: You have only to look out for some book that quotes them all, from A to Z as you say yourself, and then insert the very same alphabet in your book, and though the imposition may be plain to see, because you have so little need to borrow from them, that is no matter; there will probably be some simple enough to believe that you have made use of them all in this plain, artless story of yours. At any rate, if it answers no other purpose, this long catalogue of authors will serve to give a surprising look of authority to your book. Besides, no one will trouble himself to verify whether you have followed them or whether you have not, being no way concerned in it; especially as, if I mistake not, this book of yours has no need of any one of those things you say it wants, for it is, from beginning to end, an attack upon the books of chivalry, of which Aristotle never dreamt, nor St. Basil said a word, nor Cicero had any knowledge; nor do the niceties of truth nor the observations of astrology come within the range of its fanciful vagaries; nor have geometrical measurements or refutations of the arguments used in rhetoric anything to do with it; nor does it mean to preach to anybody, mixing up things human and divine, a sort of motley in which no Christian understanding should dress itself. It has only to avail itself of truth to nature in its composition, and the more perfect the imitation the better the work will be. And as this piece of yours aims at nothing more than to destroy the authority and influence which books of chivalry have in the world and with the public, there is no need for you to go a-begging for aphorisms from philosophers, precepts from Holy Scripture, fables from poets, speeches from orators, or miracles from saints; but merely to take care that your style and diction run musically, pleasantly, and plainly, with clear, proper, and well-placed words, setting forth your purpose to the best of your power, and putting your ideas intelligibly, without confusion or obscurity. Strive, too, that in reading your story the melancholy may be moved to laughter, and the merry made merrier still; that the simple shall not be wearied, that the judicious shall admire the invention, that the grave shall not despise it, nor the wise fail to praise it. Finally, keep your aim fixed on the destruction of that ill-founded edifice of the books of chivalry, hated by some and praised by many more; for if you succeed in this you will have achieved no small success."

Miguel Cervantes in Don Quixote.


What is LOL

Recently I came across two examples of inappropriate uses of the common online expression LOL. Both parties used it in emails, to express sympathy for the loss of a friend. Presumably they meant: Lots Of Love, noneteless it made my hair rise. LOL!

Chopin goes on auction

Poland celebrates Chopin's 200th birthday with a commemorative 20 PLZ note:

100,000 banknotes go on Internet auction, on Feb 9, and bids start at 25 PLZ, to the max of 50.

The note sports Chopin's profile, a pic of his birthplace at Żelazowa Wola, and an original print of one of his Mazurkas. The reverse shows a Mazovian scenery.


How the CIA made French people insane

[...] the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research has received a confidential inquiry from the office of Erard Corbin de Mangoux, head of the French intelligence agency, Directorate General for External Security (DGSE), concerning a recent account of American government complicity in a mysterious 1951 incident of mass insanity in France. The DGSE is the French counterpart of the CIA.

The incident took place in the village of Pont-Saint-Esprit in southern France, and is described in a recent book about the 1953 death of an American biochemist, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments. The book, by investigative journalist H.P. Albarelli Jr., was published in late November 2009 by TrineDay, which specializes in books about “suppressed information.”

The strange outbreak severely affected nearly five hundred people, causing the deaths of at least five. For nearly 60 years the Pont-St.-Esprit incident has been attributed either to ergot poisoning, meaning that villagers consumed bread infected with a psychedelic mold, or to organic mercury poisoning. But Albarelli reports that the outbreak resulted from a covert LSD aerosol experiment directed by the US Army’s top-secret Special Operations Division at Fort Detrick, Maryland. He notes that the scientists who produced both alternative explanations worked for the Sandoz Pharmaceutical Company, which was then secretly supplying both the Army and CIA with LSD. READ MORE


Boost your creativity, naturally

University of Rochester looked at the relationship between creativity and the nearly subliminal presentation of color. The researchers thought that since the color red is commonly associated with a sense of danger and error (red traffic lights and teachers' red pens) whereas green is associated with positivity and relaxation (green traffic lights and nature), the merest suggestion of such colors might hinder or help creativity. They presented participants with a booklet in either red or green ink. They asked the participants to check that the number on each page was correct and then told them to work through the booklet. Remarkably, even though everyone saw the code numbers for just a few seconds, those who were exposed to the green ink solved around 30% more anagrams than those who saw the red ink. The evidence suggest that for creativity you are better off going green.

In other studies it was proven that even small amounts of greenery can boost creative thoughts. As simple tactic as replacing a magazine rack with a potted plant can enhance your creativity.

To inspire creative thoughts, place plants and flowers in a room, and, if possible, ensure that windows look out on trees and grass, not concrete and steel. Don't try to fake it. Pictures of waterfalls do not aid innovation, and even high-definition screens showing live camera feeds from natural scenes do not make people feel more relaxed.


Color and psychological functioning: The effect of red on performance in achievement contexts, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

A plasma display window: The shifting baseline problem in a technologically mediated natural world, Journal of Environmental Psychology

Find out more solutions to enhancing your creative output in: 59 Seconds.

Readers rock publishing industry

Some time ago my novel was rejected on the basis that it contained a message, something that is, apparently, abhorrent to American readers.

Literary agent:

I think I had best say no thank you to reading The Fifth Internationale. From my experience in agenting political thrillers, especially those with a message, I find the American market extremely difficult. American publishers, unlke the Europeans, only want thrillers to entertain their readers. They don't care if a novel has a message.

[...] it is exceedingly difficult to take on a new novelist writing out of a desire to explore political problems and world events in this genre. If you want to discuss and investigate the burning issues of the day, you had best do this in non-fiction.

It is proving to be a contributing factor in the troubles faced by big publishing houses. Readers are not as dumb as publishers think or want them to be. A message in literature, whether serious works or commercial, seems as important now as it ever was (but was overlooked but those who think it is their role to tell what we must read).


Contrary to death knell hyperbole of many pundits, we are entering a publishing epoch. Cause publishing, a vital trend being set by the independents, holds the future of the printed word. But in order to reinvent its influence on society, the big houses must follow the lead of the independent scene. Now is the time to take risks, and the investment necessary to take these risks isn’t just about money; its about making a personal connection with readers. From raising proceeds to raising awareness, literary activism is fast-becoming the new arbiter of cool.

Cause. It's the message, and it aims at engaging the reader. Not at dumbing him down, as some want to.

Simplicity is key: focus on community and there is no telling the ripple effect that you could have. And its worth noting that none of this is new news:  with or without the big publishing houses support, we will always be here, NFP and individuals alike dedicated to enriching our culture and community through books. But if cause publishing is to sustain itself, it is time the big houses take notice: invest in us.