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Category: writing

Pithy posters for writers


Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner once said, "Civilization begins with distillation," and now you can have that on a poster. It's one of several pithy sayings by authors that have been given visual representation by New York-based artist Evan Robertson.

Robertson has created 15 illustrations to go along with literary quotations. There are novelists, poets, a philosopher, quippers and criticizers. One poster has Molly Bloom's soliloquy from the end of "Ulysses" (spoiler alert!). Here is a selection of quotes:

All truths wait in all things. -- Walt Whitman

That's not writing, that's typing. -- Truman Capote

Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form. -- Vladimir Nabokov

Poets are always taking the weather so seriously. -- J.D. Salinger

Have you ever heard the earth breathe? -- Kate Chopin

How embarrassing to be human. -- Kurt Vonnegut

How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless. -- Paul Bowles

I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity. -- Edgar Allan Poe

In a nation ruled by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile. --  Hunter S. Thompson

The appropriate response to reality is to go insane. -- Philip K. Dick

Three o'clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

Write drunk. Edit sober. -- Ernest Hemingway

Robertson has done his homework; he describes the literary context of each quote on the sales pages of his Etsy shop, Obvious State. For example, Capote had some specific writing (or was it typing?) in mind: He was criticizing the work of Jack Kerouac. Which gives his quote a little extra edge.

Previously, Robertson also had posters with quotes from Mark Twain and Kerouac, but those aren't currently being offered for sale. These are. The digitally created illustrations are, by turns, witty and elegant. Each poster comes as a 13-by-19-inch giclée print with a white border. They're for sale, unframed, for $24 each.


Visions of scripturience (say what?)

Here's a dictionary for warped minds

Considering tweeting about working on your novel? Think twice.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Images: Posters created by Evan Robertson. Credit: Obvious State shop on Etsy

Nora Ephron, 71, has died

Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron died Tuesday at the age of 71 of acute leukemia in New York. If news of her severe illness was a surprise to some, her death was foreshadowed by gossip columnist Liz Smith, who published an online memorial to Ephron on Tuesday afternoon, before she passed away.

Ephron got her start as a writer in New York in 1962. A recent Wellesley grad, she wrote a parody of a New York Post story -- and then was hired by the Post. She wrote about her experiences as a journalist, among other things, in her final book, "I Remember Nothing." She was there when the Beatles first came to America -- but she didn't get the full effect. "I was at Kennedy Airport. I went to the Ed Sullivan show," she told the NPR show Wait Wait Don't Tell Me. "But I couldn't hear them."

Like much of her work, the collection of humorous essays took a look at the personal and found a way to make it funny. Ephron published it and 2006's "I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman" with Alfred A. Knopf, her longtime publisher. The company said in a statement, "It is with great sadness that we report that Nora Ephron has died at the age of 71, after a battle with leukemia. She brought an awful lot of people a tremendous amount of joy. She will be sorely missed."

Ephron's first big publication was the sensational 1983 roman-a-clef "Heartburn." The novel was based on the dissolution of her marriage to famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein, co-author of "All the President's Men."

That same year, the film "Silkwood" was released; Ephron had written the screenplay, for which she recieved an Oscar nomination. Her film career took off: she wrote the screenplay for "Heartburn"  and for "When Harry Met Sally." Her directorial debut came with another romantic comedy she'd written, "Sleepless in Seattle." Her last release was "Julie & Julia"; Ephron directed the film and adapted the screenplay from the book of the same name by Julie Powell. Yet even with her Hollywood success, Ephron continued to write.

The Times' Mary McNamara reviewed Ephron's last book. "When I was a journalist just out of college, I worked at Ms. magazine and all my friends and I wanted to be Nora Ephron," she wrote in 2010. "She turned her divorce into a wise and hilarious novel, she wrote about events and people in such a way that was informative but also full of wit and stinging cultural analysis. She wrote about food before everyone was a foodie. She was smarter, darker and funnier than Anna Quindlen. Ephron's voice helped launch a whole new way of writing, and I still love to hear it...."

Read our complete obituary of Nora Ephron.


Poet Adrienne Rich, 82, has died

Science fiction pioneer Ray Bradbury, 91, has died

Book review: "I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections" by Nora Ephron

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Nora Ephron in 2010. Credit: Charles Sykes / Associated Press

Margaret Atwood jumps into teen writing site Wattpad

Margaret Atwood has always been one step ahead. The recent to-do over the use of the word "vagina" on the Michigan state House floor, for instance, would fit right in with the world she imagined in "The Handmaid's Tale," which was published back in 1985.

So maybe other adult novelists should take note of Atwood's latest move: She's jumped into the frenetic teen writing site Wattpad. "I look forward to exploring the ways Wattpad connects people to reading and writing, and may help give them confidence through feedback from readers," Atwood writes on her author page.

Wattpad is a Toronto-based social reading app and website that's been rapidly adopted by teens. It claims 9 million users, more than 70% of whom engage with the materials on Wattpad through a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. Earlier this month, the company announced $17 million in Series B funding; currently, its platform is completely free to use. More than 500,000 new stories and poems -- in 25 languages -- are added each month.

On Monday, Atwood posted two poems on the site, "Thriller Suite" and "Update on Werewolves." The site captures and displays all kinds of metrics about the writing shared there. Atwood's poems have had more than 1,600 reads.

In a release announcing Atwood's participation, Chief Executive Allen Lau said, "Our community of readers and writers are thrilled, especially our poets.... Just imagine what it means for a young aspiring poet to interact with Margaret Atwood!"

So far, just 15 people have ventured to leave comments on Atwood's poems. They may be shy to engage  with the revered 72-year-old author, who has received the Arthur C. Clark Award, has won Canada's Governor General Award twice, and recieved the Man Booker prize in 2000 for "The Blind Assassin."

It may take a little time for the site's users to find the best way to interact with Atwood, who is accustomed to presenting finished, polished work. One of the most fertile uses of Wattpad is as a place for people working on a writing project to post it in serial form. For the popular work "The Bro Code," which has had more than 1.5 million reads, comments show that readers got started and want more. A typical one: "Plzzzzzz plzzzzz upload i luv the book so much! It is soooo hard 4 me to stop reading! Things r so intense i can hardly stand it!"

If that sounds a little, well, teenspeak for the literary Atwood, she seems game. “This is an adventure! I wonder what it will be like to share my writing with a new group of people," she said in the release. "Building new readers and writers is crucial for the writing and reading community: if there are no newer readers, soon there will be no older ones. And, in writing as with everything else, you learn by doing.”


Interview: Margaret Atwood

At Digital Book World: Copia

What the heck is 'social reading'?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Margaret Atwood in 2008. Credit: George Whiteside.

Microsoft announces its Surface tablet: a good writing device?


On Monday, Microsoft entered the world of tablets with Surface, announced in Los Angeles. It's Microsoft hardware designed for Microsoft software, with two models, the consumer-friendly Surface RT and the Surface Pro, meant for professionals. The prices were not announced.

That's partly because the Surface isn't available yet -- the Surface RT will debut in tandem with Windows 8. But Windows 8's release date, which has been the subject of much speculation, has not been announced. The Surface Pro is expected to arrive three months later. If I were guessing, I'd say they're aiming for a pre-holiday consumer release, and a professional release in early 2013. But I really have no idea.

Indeed, other than a lot of detail about the tablet's physical prorperties, we didn't learn much about what'll be happening inside Surface. We can assume it will be able to run Microsoft's suite of programs -- Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. -- and they showed (after a demo hiccup) that it can stream Netflix.

But bookish people will be curious (at least I am) about whether the Surface tablet, like Apple's iPad and the Kindle Fire, can serve as an e-reader. Maybe -- if an e-reader is built into Windows 8, which is of course a really big if. Because like so much else connected to Monday's event, the details of Windows 8 have not been announced.

If its capacity as a reading device was left unexplained, the Surface does seem to present great potential as a writing device. It comes with one of two kinds of covers, one flat and one deeper, both of which fold out as full-sized keyboards. For anyone who's tried and failed to adapt well to the compressed iPad onscreen keyboard, the idea of writing on a full-sized keyboard that's integrated into the tablet's functioning sounds fantastic. And it can be used with a stylus, which writes freehand on the screen -- if it's fully integrated with how the software works, that's a second way to write and edit.

Yes, writing on Microsoft's Surface will probably mean you'll have to use Word. So there's also a downside.

There was one strange bone thrown to books. Microsoft's Panos Panay, who designed the products, told the assembled journalists: "This spine feels like a book. You'll hold it like a book. It will feel like it's another book when you carry it with books." So books remain in the mix -- at least as a design reference.


Harry Potter 'Book of Spells' by J.K. Rowling launches Wonderbook

Waterstones makes deal to sell the Amazon Kindle, dismaying many

Barnes & Noble spins off Nook e-reader with $300M from Microsoft

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Screenshot from Microsoft's Surface website.

Not writing? There's an app for that: Write or Die

For writers, procrastination is an eternal enemy. It has classically waited in the pauses between words, in that argument outside the window, in being thirsty and needing a glass of water, in having to run to the bathroom. Now, with the Internet, it's also lurking there on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram and Path, and wait, did the London Review of Books just post a new issue online?

In other words, procrastination is everywhere.

Avoiding the procrastination temptation can be too much to ask. But hey, there's an app for that.

Write or Die is made specifically to keep writers on task. It comes with the tag line, "Putting the 'prod' in productivity."

How the app works: Writers begin typing in the app's window. When the typing slows to a stop, there are consequences. The writer can set how severe those consequences will be. In "gentle" mode, a notice pops up with a kind reminder that it's time to start writing. In "normal" mode, the app begins to emit an unpleasant sound, which only stops once the typing begins again. In "kamikaze" mode, the app is set to destroy: when the writing has stopped for too long, the words begin to erase themselves. There is also a "nyan cat" mode, turning an Internet meme into a destructive force.

The message is clear: Keep writing, or else.

Write or Die started out in a desktop version, created by a "Dr. Wicked," and became available as an app for the iPad last fall. Why pay attention now? Turns out, its system of possibly disastrous punishments actually works.

That's according to Helen Oyeyemi, a British writer whose novel "Mr. Fox" just came out in paperback in the U.K. When asked for writing advice this week by The Guardian, Oyeyemi recommended Write or Die, saying, "Because, sometimes, fear is the only motivator."

The app version of Write or Die includes some rewards to go with its punishments, such as stats that tally progress toward writing goals. But the tone can still be intimidating: There is also a deadline countdown, keeping the hammer of doom looming.

The Write or Die app is $9.99. Such is the price of writing progress.


What it takes to get writers writing

"Pride & Prejudice & Zombies," the app

How writers can be Emerging Voices in Los Angeles

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Screenshot of the website for Write or Die

How writers can be Emerging Voices in Los Angeles


PEN Center USA has one of the few programs in Los Angeles designed to give new writers a leg up: Emerging Voices. It's not for people with an MFA or for writing professors. It's not for people who work in publishing. It's not for authors who've already published books. Who it is for: writers living in Southern California who have just begun to build their writing resumes, who are ready to focus on a specific work -- and who have a killer writing sample.

The application period for the 2013 Emerging Voices Fellowship is now open. The deadline is Aug. 15.

In the eight-month program, PEN provides each author with a $1,000 stipend, tuition for two courses at the UCLA Extension Writers Program, master classes, a writing mentor, and hosted Q&A evenings with Los Angeles authors. As part of the program, the fellows are asked to devote 25 volunteer hours to a literary cause. 

In January, the 2012 class of Emerging Voices was introduced at a party and reading. In the photograph above, from left to right, they are Nathan Go, Amanda Fletcher, Sacha A. Howells, Chelsea Hodson, Jonathan Alfi and Rayne Gasper. Each lives in the L.A. area and is at work on a project they hope will become a book.

Helping them is a stellar group of mentors, which changes every year. The 2012 mentors are novelist Ron Carlson, who heads the creative writing program at UC Irvine; National Magazine Award-winning journalist and novelist Ben Ehrenreich; Guggenheim Award winner Richard Lange ("Dead Boys"); Jillian Lauren, whose memoir "Some Girls" was a bestseller; novelist Alex Espinoza ("Still Water Saints"); and Victoria Patterson, whose short story collection "Drift" was a finalist for the Story Prize.

One unusual aspect of the program is that it provides a class with a professional voice coach, so the Emerging Writers can learn the art of reading in public. At the end of the term, they get to show off their new skills at a group reading. Look for that later this year.


Considering tweeting about working on your novel? Think twice.

Irish National Library puts James Joyce manuscripts online

La-La Land now the dictionary definition of Los Angeles

 -- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: The 2012 Emerging Voices writers. Credit: Casey Curry / PEN Center USA

What it takes to get writers writing

Hannah Tinti

Tea, email, walking, nail polish -- all are some of the pre-writing habits of writers trying to get started writing. At least, that's what Courtney Maum has uncovered at the Tin House blog. In some cases, it takes a ritual to be ready to write; in the case of Hannah Tinti, above, that ritual has come to include photographs.

In a two-part series titled Super Sad True Habits of Highly Effective Writers, Maum spoke to Gary Shteyngart -- only fair, after borrowing his title -- Jim Shepherd, Elissa Schappell, Steve Almond, Nick Flynn, Simon Winchester, Ben Percy, Eileen Myles, Darin Strauss, and Lynn Tillman. Overall, their answers show that authors can be superstitious and also wedded to routine, and can get pretty funny about their (real or imagined) procrastination techniques.

As cute and quirky as the Super Sad True Habits are, they aren't quite as bracing as the list that Flavorpill came up with last summer. They loved the collection so much that they brought it back on Christmas Day; maybe you saw it. If so, you probably remember John Cheever saying that he wrote in his underwear. Others they discovered:

Truman Capote liked to write prone, with coffee or sherry
T.S. Eliot wrote with green powder on his face, appearing cadaverous to visitors
Eudora Welty pinned pages of her works-in-progress together like a quilt
Tom Wolfe writes 1,800 words a day, no matter how long it takes
Vladimir Nabakov needed his pencils sharpened just so

Sometimes one writer's habits can fill another. If only Nabakov had met David Rees, author of "How to Sharpen Pencils."


For the person who has everything: Artisanal pencil sharpening

Festival of Books: Jerry Stahl and others on the book-to-screen trick

Two fiction contests, fast and slow

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Hannah Tinti in 2003. Credit: Debbie Zeolla

Most interesting comment thread of the day, courtesy Helen DeWitt

Must a writer write?

Malcolm Cowley wrote, "a man does what he has to do -- if he has to write, why then, he writes; and if he doesn't feel the urgent need of writing, there are dozens of professions in which it is easier to earn a more comfortable living." That was in 1947, to aspiring writer Richard Max, grandfather of Rebecca Davis O'Brien, who writes about the find in the Paris Review Daily.

Cowley was a poet, novelist, critic and editor; much of his work focused on the writers of the Lost Generation. He knew many writers, including William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Hart Crane, E. E. Cummings, Thornton Wilder, and John Cheever. So he had a sense of what he was talking about when he replied to Max, saying that a writer must be deeply compelled to write.

That's accepted now as an obvious truism, but novelist Helen DeWitt ("Lightning Rods") strongly contradicts that in the blog post's comments. DeWitt writes:

The writer who is literally an addict, the writer who can’t help himself, the writer who HAS to write, can never be anything but an amateur, because the industry requires the professional to put writing on hold not just for a day or two, or a week, but for years.

Jonathan Galassi is on record as saying that Jonathan Franzen is the most important writer of his generation. Franzen says he has done no writing for TWO YEARS. Well, of course. Franzen is a pro. Freedom had to go through the machine that turns a manuscript into an artifact; Franzen then had to do a roadshow to shift copies of the artifact. The fact that his editor saw him as the most important writer of his generation did not mean that his editor thought his time would better be spent (gasp) writing — that a single appearance on Oprah, for instance, would suffice.

Jaimy Gordon won the National Book Award last year, because Bruce Ferguson submitted the ms of Lord of Misrule. Gordon is 65; she had been teaching full time. Making the finals got her a hot shot agent, an extra $100,000 if she won. She won. The prize, a chance to join the pros. Not to WRITE — only an amateur would expect to use the money to squander the anointed talent on a new book. No, being the Winner meant she could spend a year on publicity, shifting copies of the artifact.

That's a view that de-romanticizes the project of writing and posits it clearly as an industrial enterprise. Move the product, don't create an excess supply. "If you literally HAVE to write, you can’t be a pro," she writes. "The writers whose work is published are all writers who can somehow manage NOT to write for months, even years." That's a fascinating, if cynical, perspective -- particularly from an author herself.

As for Max, the hopeful writer of 1947? He was overcome not by the desire to write but by market forces. Instead of writing, he went into the family's diamond business -- which as Cowley predicted, was probably more lucrative.


The Reading Life: Interviewing William Burroughs

Considering tweeting about working on your novel? Think twice.

Irish National Library puts James Joyce manuscripts online

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Fountain pen and writing. Credit: Urbanworkbench via Flickr

Every writer's nightmare: the wordless Web


Just imagine if you could go on the World Wide Web and see no words. No words at all.

You can.

Designer Ji Lee and programmer Cory Forsyth have created a browser plug-in that erases all text from Web pages. It's called the Wordless Web.

To make it work, drag the icon into your bookmark bar. When on a Web page, click it and all the text disappears. It doesn't erase text that has been saved as an image, like some text-based logos, but all the html text goes away.

We tried it on Jacket Copy, and there was beloved children's book author Maurice Sendak without the news that he died Tuesday at the age of 83. Which, come to think of it, is sort of nice.

“Looking at sites without words makes the entire experience on the Web a little calmer, as if all the noise is gone,” Lee told Wired.

Using the Wordless Web is a reminder of how text-driven the entire Internet is. There are exceptions, I'm sure, brilliantly-designed image-oriented websites. But even things like Pinterest and Tumblr -- look at them with the words stripped out. They're pretty, but what do they mean?

If the Wordless Web is every writer's nightmare, we can't be angry at Ji Lee. The former creative director at Google Creative Labs has also tried to generate words in places where there were none, by pasting 50,000 blank word-bubble stickers on advertisements in New York.


Publisher Macmillan says "we did not collude" over e-books

A dictionary for warped minds

La-La Land now the dictionary definition of Los Angeles

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Screenshot of Jacket Copy after getting the Wordless Web treatment



Irish National Library puts James Joyce manuscripts online

James Joyce

The Irish National Library has digitized its rare James Joyce manuscripts and put them online. It's a major move that makes Joyce's handwritten notes and drafts available to scholars for free, at anytime. Joyce, who died in 1941 at age 58, is considered one of modernism's most important and influential writers, but scholars have not had free access to his papers.

His grandson Stephen, who is custodian of his estate, has long held tight reins on the Joyce materials under his control: He charged high fees, refused scholars the right to quote from Joyce's work and shut down the Irish government's planned public readings of the centenary of "Ulysses" when he threatened litigation. But on Jan. 1, many of James Joyce's works, including his letters, moved into the public domain.

The library was quiet about putting the manuscripts online; they've been available since April 10. The announcement of the availability of the Joyce manuscripts had been tucked into news on its website headlined "more service enhancements."

There are three main files: The Circe episode of "Ulysses," "Finnegans Wake" drafts from 1923, and a collection known as the Joyce Papers 2002, c.1903-1928. The Irish Times has spent some time combing through the resources and has a quick primer:

A reader may well be relieved to learn that the "Finnegans Wake" documents can be safely ignored, or at least left for much later attention; they are mostly page proofs with some pretty modest corrections. This means that all the numbers from MS36,639/15 (yes, it is a bit of a mathematical maze) on down can be left out of the reckoning.

It is in the other two categories, the “early notes” and the Ulysses notes and drafts, that the real meat of the collection is to be found. Although the collection is titled “The Joyce Papers 1903-1928,” it is quite possible that the very first set of documents -- a series of extracts from Dante -- dates from a good deal earlier, possibly from Joyce’s time in university or even from his school years in Belvedere.

The next document (MS 36,639/2/A), if it had been discovered on its own, would in itself and of itself be a source of great excitement. It is a commonplace book, which Joyce used for an unusual variety of purposes: as an account book, as a repository of various passages and poems from his reading that struck him (Ben Jonson is a particular favourite); reading lists; thoughts and reflections on aesthetics; remarks on friends (JF Byrne, for instance); and, eventually, notes for Dubliners and for the figure of Stephen Dedalus as he emerged in the later fiction (some of the notes even look forward to Ulysses).

Currently available in PDF, the library has promised that higher resolution digital copies will be available June 16 -- which is known to Joyce fans as Bloomsday, named for the character in his novel "Ulysses."


James Joyce moves into the public domain, mostly

After 22 years, Kate Bush gets to record James Joyce

James Joyce and postmodernism: A complicated catechism

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: James Joyce. Credit: Lipnitzki/Roger Viollet / Getty Images


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