Week in Links: Brainy Writing

7 Ways to Use Brain Science to Hook Readers and Reel Them In – WritetoDone

In the same way that food tastes good so we’ll eat it, stories are entertaining so we’ll pay attention to them. But for writers the real breakthrough is the discovery of what triggers that delicious sense of enjoyment we feel when a story hooks us.

Lisa Cron, the guest author of the above post, is well on her way to earning an place of honor in this blog. I’ve been seeing really goddamned awesome guests posts from her ever since her book, Wired for Story, was released in July. She’s no doubt trying to promote her book by writing excellent guest posts, but that’s okay because did I mention how goddamned awesome her guest posts have been? They’re so awesome that I actually bought her book the week it was released. You can get a taste of what her book is about by reading the above article, her post titled Why We are Wired for Story at Writer Unboxed, and her blog wiredforstory.com.

HipType Provides Detailed Analytics for eBooks – LitReactor

Levy and Prasad aren’t the first to create a product to give detailed eBook analytics, but others require publishers to go through a specific eBook store, which is limiting. HipType’s only limitation (and it’s a fairly big one but one that should sort itself out over time) is that the plug-in works with any HTML5 device (so iPad, Kindle Fire, etc.) but not with eReaders that use e-ink (standard Kindle).

If you follow me on Twitter, you know I love calling out techno-babble tools like this that can help self-published writers. The article mentions this too, but tools like HipType put analytics and data collection into the layman’s hands and allow for testing alternative versions of a book on readers to see what they respond to the most. And that’s an awesome thing. Unless you spend too much time fiddling with data collection and not enough time making solid stories. Then it’s a not awesome thing.

National Geographic‘s Aaron Huey on Digital Collaboration and Community Storytelling – 10,000 Words (Mediabistro)

There is great value in having an outsider tell the story of a people or community, and put the pieces they find into a beautiful, objective narrative. But returning for many years to Pine Ridge meant that I had to look back into the eyes of the same people again and again after they had seen themselves on websites or in the pages of magazines, and they all wanted to know why I couldn’t tell more of the story. They wanted to know why it all had to be about poverty and violence and alcohol. They wanted to know why it couldn’t be about success stories and good students and sober families.

I’ve been keeping tabs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation project that Aaron Huey and Cowbird are partnering on, but this is the first link-worthy piece I’ve found. You’ll find a really dense interview that’s worth your time for Huey’s thoughtful discussion about giving voice to a community and the limitations of traditional journalism.

Every Friday, I highlight links from the week—all related to writing, storytelling, and plain ol’ books. Some of the links I love, some of the links I don’t, but I believe all are worth reading and discussing. If you’re the type to eat dessert before dinner, you can get these and much, much more by following me on Twitter: @messemi.

Week in Links: Stop Being So Damn Nice

Jonah Lehrer continued to commit career suicide, and that dominated most of the linkage and articles this week. Yet I somehow managed to find a few gems tucked under his turd fest. You’re welcome.

Against Enthusiasm: The epidemic of niceness in online book culture – Slate

As if mirroring the surrounding culture, biting criticism has become synonymous with offense; everything is personal—one’s affection for a book is interchangeable with one’s feelings about its author as a person. Critics gush in anticipation for books they haven’t yet read; they <3 so-and-so writer, tagging the author's Twitter handle so that he or she knows it, too; they exhaust themselves with outbursts of all-caps praise, because that's how you boost your follower count and affirm your place in the back-slapping community that is the literary web.

This article tries to make an argument for being more critical of books in online communities (primarily Twitter and Tumblr). I’m all for being critical to sensitive souls like writers. So stop being so damn nice, people. Let’s bring those published literary hussies to tears.

Update 8/13: Pop Culture Happy Hour (an awesome NPR podcast to which you should subscribe) critiques this article and brings up some really solid points about social media and today’s “book culture.” The discussion starts at 19:21 and ends about 34:10, which you can listen to on their blog post Pop Culture Happy Hour: On Fall TV And Whether Criticism Is Too Nice.

The only list that matters – Melville House

A body cannot live each day like it was their last. Our best moments gain their worth, in part, because they are surrounded by dross. But seeing numbers like this, doing the math, makes a person wonder: should that book about feeding your dog the paleo diet be one of those vanishing few?

Melville House dared write a post that combined math with books, but it works. I’m not sure the universe can handle this imbalance.

This dude just wants an eBook – New York Times Blog

I felt like I was in a Monty Python skit. “Hello? Would anyone like some money? Anyone? I’ve got money here—no?”

This exemplary human writes a tech blog for the New York Times (I know, exemplary + technology + New York Times is an unholy union), and decided he needed an eBook version of Bourne Identity for his minion. Problem is, the publisher is too incompetent to provide eBook versions. So this dude did what any other human would—he went to a bit torrent site. But THEN this magical, godly person mailed the publisher a check! Oh holy hell, I don’t think the universe can handle this much strain.

Bonus: Joshua Ferris is my nemesis – Salon

We’ll call my nemesis Josh, since that’s his name. He goes by Joshua now — Joshua Ferris — but calling him that makes me uncomfortable, so for these purposes I’m going with Josh.

Can be summarized succinctly with one word: hilarious. After discussing how inhumane and horrible her MFA program was, and how her nemesis (now a published writer) is a hard worker, the last few paragraphs bring us to the groundbreaking moral that being an unknown writer gives you more freedom and less pressure. Enlightening.

Every Friday, I highlight links from the week—all related to writing, storytelling, and plain ol’ books. Some of the links I love, some of the links I don’t, but I believe all are worth reading and discussing. If you’re the type to eat dessert before dinner, you can get these and much, much more by following me on Twitter: @messemi.

Week in Links: Tchotchkes, Zombies, and Book Mazes

Tchotchkes Made Significant Through Stories – Marketplace.org

We had this hypothesis that you could actually add value to an object by completely making up a story about it—a completely fictitious story….The stories were good, but I think that there was something about the project that people wanted to participate in. They wanted to be part of the story, and they wanted to tell their friends about it…

This fascinating project proves that even a turd can be polished into a gemstone with the help of a good story.

Zombie Nouns – NY Times Opinonator

Nouns formed from other parts of speech are called nominalizations. Academics love them; so do lawyers, bureaucrats and business writers. I call them “zombie nouns” because they cannibalize active verbs, suck the lifeblood from adjectives and substitute abstract entities for human beings.

Read the above article to learn why zombie nouns are not cool. And then make sure you beat those bastards with a cricket bat when you next encounter them.

London Maze Made From 250,000 Books – LitReactor

An enormous labyrinth made of at least 250,000 books is being created at Southbank Centre as part of the London 2012 Festival. The aptly titled aMAZEme project is spearheaded by Brazilian artists Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pup…[who] hope visitors will “discover new textures, images and emotions while being immersed inside the world of books.”

I’m a sucker for things like gigantic mazes constructed from books, and I’m an even bigger sucker for interactive, community-based art projects. This project will not only be built by volunteers, it will also host live author readings and other events inside the maze, and visitors can take a book from the maze when they leave. So. Damn. Cool.

Write ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Books Through This Clever HTML5 App – Fast Co.Design

Who hasn’t, at least for a moment, thought a Choose Your Own Adventure book would be fun to write? It’s like making a game out of words. Branching narratives are a surprisingly natural approach to make books interactive. But they’re a logistical nightmare. Multiple storylines? Converging plots? How could you keep even a simple story straight?

A company called inkle appears to have figured it out…[and] is making their internal compositional software available to the public free as an HTML5 web app called inklewriter. So, without any coding expertise at all, and without much preplanned plot, either, you can simply start typing an interactive novel.

Anyone who didn’t love Choose Your Own Adventures as a kid is a soulless, kitten hater. I tested the inklewriter app already, and it is very easy to dive right in and use. So get to it, people. We no longer have excuses to ignore this beloved art form.

I Hate This Book So Much: A Meditation – Time

I cannot stand this book I’m reading right now.

It’s a novel. It’s by a writer who is generally described as Great, but who I’ve always personally felt is Pretty Good When He’s Really On His Game, Which Was Like For One Book, But Generally Speaking He’s Really Not That Good At All. Like For Example Right Now.

The comments section for Lev Grossman’s article and his Twitter feed have turned into a guess-the-book game. But the point is that anyone with a brain and their own thoughts have “great” authors they absolutely hate. For me it’s everything ever written by Franzen.

Inside the Quest to Put the World’s Libraries Online – The Atlantic

The fascination with completeness is as timeless as it is ingrained. In the last decade, the Internet has made the ambition of universality appear closer to realization than ever before: What is the Web, if not a vast collection, and an accessible one? But as with any new frontier, formidable challenges attend exciting possibilities—and nowhere has this been more apparent than in the efforts of the Digital Public Library of America, a coalition spearheading the largest effort yet to curate and make publicly available the “cultural and scientific heritage of humanity,” with a focus on materials from the U.S., by harnessing the Internet’s capabilities. The DPLA hopes to create a platform that will orchestrate millions of materials—books from public and university libraries, records from local historical societies, museums, and archives—into a single, user-friendly interface accessible to every American with Internet access.

Long and thoughtful piece on the DPLA and all of the potential pitfalls and challenges they face with a project of this massive scale. Nothing really snarky I can add here, sorry.

Every Friday, I highlight links from the week—all related to writing, storytelling, and plain ol’ books. Some of the links I love, some of the links I don’t, but I believe all are worth reading and discussing. If you’re the type to eat dessert before dinner, you can get these and much, much more by following me on Twitter: @messemi.

Week in Links: The Swedes Augment Reality

Ikea Adds Augmented Reality to 2013 Catalog – Mashable:

Ikea has added augmented reality to its 2013 catalog with new features that let consumers access films, interactive experience and photo galleries with their smartphones.

Mashable has uncovered one more way that the Swedes are taking over the world. Ikea’s yearly catalog is already my grown-up version of the Sears Holiday Wish Book, and this is going to drain more of my time (and iPhone battery power).

Geeking About Storytelling with Joss Whedon – i09:

Joss Whedon is in the unique position of being both a cult icon and a huge mainstream creator, thanks to projects like Firefly and The Avengers. But both halves of his success spring from his ability to create addictive stories, that leave you desperate to know what happens next.

The Geek God, Joss Whedon, answers some interesting questions about transitioning stories between different mediums (film to TV to comics). But what I really wanted them to ask: Why is Dr. Horrible and Firefly so good while Dollhouse left me collapsed on the floor in a pool of vomit?

The Silent History: New Digital Story Project Inspired by “The Wire” – Melville House Books:

The former publisher of McSweeney’s, Eli Horowitz, along with Russell Quinn, Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett have a new digital reading platform called The Silent History, which is designed with the circumambulatory nature of storytelling in mind, more so than a straight-forward linear format.

I haven’t been this excited about an interactive story since I first heard about Zombies, Run! a year ago. The fact that readers can add their own supplements to the story via “Field Reports” makes this project sound even more amazetrain.

Every Friday, I highlight links from the week—all related to writing, storytelling, and plain ol’ books. Some of the links I love, some of the links I don’t, but I believe all are worth reading and discussing. If you’re the type to eat dessert before dinner, you can get these and much, much more by following me on Twitter: @messemi.

A Few of the More Bizarre Things on My Packing List

  • Glue sticks (yes, in the plural)
  • Alcohol wipes, and Purell, and Kleenex
  • Pins for blocking a sweater

Should Be Subtitled “And I Want to Die”

My coworker pointed out this loathsome article in The New York Observer today: My Book Deal Ruined My Life. Maybe I’m just a tree-hugging, sea-loving nobody from the Pacific Northwest, but if the fact that it’s from The New York Observer doesn’t say it all, the title most certainly does.

Yep, it’s another drama-entrenched tale of woe discouraging would-be writers from picking up their pens. I’ve seen so many of these articles in the past two years that I’m beginning to think it’s a conspiracy. The journalists who write these articles must be so bitter about their three dust-collecting manuscripts they want nothing more than to destroy any potential competition.

The Key to Success

As heard in passing: “I’ve found that if you just say a lot of random stuff and act like you know what you’re saying, then everyone will believe you’re really smart.”

Or in my case, I’ll think you’re really, really stupid. Though I suppose it’s easy to mistake a look of disgust to be a look if admiration.

Why Orange Juice Is So Great

Orange juice is one of the few wonders of this world. Forget this seven wonders. This is the wonder!

What, pray tell, spawned this rant? I’m glad you asked. Let me tell you:

  • Orange juice is loaded with Vitamin C, making it great for overcoming illnesses.
  • While ill, water tastes awful. But Orange juice doesn’t!
  • When on the tail-end of your illness, you can pour yourself a glass of orange juice and spike it with a healthy dousing of vodka, feeling great about the ability to cure your illness while getting drunk. The best part: no one will know!

Eau du Swell

Since I was a child, I knew I was sensitive to chemicals—especially soaps and specialty acne cleansers. But it wasn’t until the past three years that I realized I was also sensitive to smells. When I went to a “relaxation clinic” to help with my depression, I learned I was breathing more shallowly than the average human. I pondered this while on my way home, trying as hard as I could to inhale with deep breaths. Walking through the city pavement, I would try to swell my stomach and chest out with air, as instructed, but immediately stop short. I fought and struggled with my body, trying to force my lungs to inhale to maximum capacity. But it simply would not happen. Then while waiting on the busy downtown sidewalk for my bus, I suddenly realized why I breathe shallowly. The smell of the city, particularly exhaust from the cars, greatly bothered me.

I had always instinctively known that smells bothered me and compensated with shallow breathing. But once I knew consciously, I became more aware of the scents around me. I paid attention to any and every non-natural smell I encountered, noting how my body reacted. While fuel exhaust and extremely harsh chemical smells you barely encounter in day-to-day life really bothered me, perfumes seemed fine.

Then one day, while on the bus, a women sat in front of me with a perfume that smelled like any ordinary perfume. Mucus thickly dripped down my throat, soon followed by swelling. I opened the window. My throat continued to swell. I moved to the back of the bus, again opening a window. Suddenly, I was wheezing for air. What the hell was going on? I don’t have asthma! Would my throat keep swelling until I couldn’t breathe? Was I going to die? Was I making a big deal out of nothing?

I didn’t want to be that person who causes a commotion because they’re not quite wired right in the head. I tried to hide my wheezing, hoping that I could make it to my job. With each wheeze, I watched the landmarks pass. But ten minutes away and I felt like I would pass out from lack of air. When the bus stopped outside the mall, I dashed off. Collapsing onto my hands and knees on the sidewalk, I threw up into a drainage grate. I stared down in front of me. The prior night’s dinner and that morning’s breakfast slowly dripped through the grating. People were looking at me at the bus stop, people in cars were pointing. I tried to spit what vomit I could, wiped my mouth on my hand, and stood up.

Away from the perfume, the swelling in my throat slowly subsided. By the time another bus came and I walked into work 20 minutes late, I could mostly breathe normally. At first, I was worried this would be a new way of life for me. But as months passed without incident, I mostly forgot the fear of not being able to breathe.

And then it happened again today. A man came into my office reeking of cologne. He stood inches behind me, talking to another contractor. Suddenly, my head started to pound and my throat began to swell. I waited him out, hoping he would leave soon. And he did. But the lingering cologne persisted in the air. And my throat continued to swell. And the pounding in my headache felt like someone was stabbing my eyes from inside my skull. And then things went black. I woke up perhaps a minute later to find I had not only toppled out of my desk chair, but had projected a fountain of vomit that arched with my fall. A pulp of sugar peas, goldfish crackers, tomatoes, and Odwalla’s “Amazing Purple Superfood” dripped from the ledge of my desk, coated an unused computer monitor, and pooled on the floor near my head.

That time I threw up all over someone’s test I was grading in junior high causing everyone to avoid me for the rest of the year? Yeah, well this was many times more embarrassing. At least in junior high, I had food poisoning. This time I had—what—”cologne poisoning”?

And a Pinch of Jealousy

Right now, I can’t think of a worse feeling. It’s that cocktail of one part anger, one part hurt, a splash of resentment, and a pinch of jealousy to taste. It’s that cocktail you down with your woes when someone who has been terribly mean to you in the past is rewarded and praised by the community you share. Because you see life through your personal perspective, the cruel remarks you remember this person saying to you and others is their only face. And because it’s their only face, you’re aghast that no one else publicly agrees.

But no one else spurns this person, making your feelings a close second in awfulness to grieving for a loved one. At least with grief, you know it’s okay to feel the salt sting on your cheeks. You can cry as much as you want. You can say what you want. No one will fault you because it’s your dead mother, not theirs.

Don’t forget to add the overlaying feeling of guilt to this Molotov cocktail exploding in your stomach. After all, an entire community is praising this person. And you’re not. Something must be wrong with you. No, something is definitely wrong with you.

If you speak, you will feel better. But maybe you should keep your mouth shut. You’re the only one who doesn’t agree with everyone else’s praise. You’re the only one who feels so strongly about the cruelness of the praised. Nonetheless, you decide to say something. It will make you feel better. It will warn the person to be kinder than they were in the past, especially now that they hold so much more responsibility. Of course, you agonize over the most tactful way to express your disappointment. By disagreeing with the entire community, you’re already losing public face. If you aren’t careful about what you say, you’ll lose even more.

Painstakingly, you place each and every word in the most tactful manner possible. This sentence over here moves to there, while you delete that entire paragraph at the bottom. You’re bracing for a backlash. In order to tame it as much as possible, what you say in the end is a beige version of what you really wanted to say. Strangely enough, by the time you finish that cocktail is but a mere hangover.