Category Archives: reading

Another hard blow for culture: Books are written to be read

Amazon is changing is royalty policy for borrowed books from a per-book system to a per-page-read system. It’s a move that is widely supported by KPD Select authors (you know, the people it affects), but – like any decision Amazon has ever made – criticism hails from a variety of camps. One of them is the grand league of cultural patronage, who apparently believe that literature is far too high-minded a thing to be judged (or paid) according to how much of it readers can get through, before they throw their Kindle against the wall.

What is the world coming to, after all, if books are written to be read, instead of as pieces of art, cultural observation and a testament to humanity?

 

I’m going to admit something here: I love literature. If pressed, I’d even admit that I love lit fic above all genre fiction, and that’s what I write! In the debates on the value of lit fic versus genre, I regularly come down on the side of literature and I do genuinely believe in its value for humanity as a whole. A value that does go beyond that of most genre fiction.

But literature is written for readers! In a big, big way! The moment it stops being written for human consumption, or only to be read by literature professors to torture their students with, then what’s the point?

As numerous studies show, reading high quality literature increases empathy, intelligence, the ability to communicate and understand the world. Yes. It does all that. But the emphasis is on READING literature. The mere fact that it exists as some kind of abstract piece of art means nothing to anybody, except possibly the self-involved, post-modern writer who truly believes his genius shines too bright for any reader to understand.

All the greats wrote stories for readers. The fact that a book is enjoyable is really not in any way a contraction to quality. Shakespeare himself wrote for the lowest, least educated group of his time, after all, commoners, looking for a good time drinking ale in a packed theater. Jane Austen, although maybe a little challenging to today’s reader, was well-loved by her readers and a great commercial success. And yes, the lit-scene is full of snobby idiots, and fantasy and sci-fi can be just as literary as the great realists are — read some Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick or Ursula K. LeGuin for great examples.

But literature is a great thing. It’s a great things because we read it and we fall in love and throughout its pages it changes us, it helps us to understand, finds words for all those feelings and ideas that have been clanking around unnamed in our subconscious. And I’m not saying it doesn’t take work sometimes. You sort of have to train yourself to become good at reading lit fic — but that’s really not a problem, cause you also have to work on playing video games before you’re any good, or on sports or painting or any fulfilling hobby people might have. And still they are all there to enrich human life.

So listen culture snobs, the best literature has always been the books readers also connect with. Bringing the focus of writing – yes, even writing literature – back to the people is the best thing that could ever happen to it. People are smarter, more emotionally intelligent and better equipped to understand the big questions than you will ever know. And don’t you effing throw Twilight and 50 Shades back at me. People are also horny, so what? Nobody is just one thing.

The post Another hard blow for culture: Books are written to be read appeared first on Laila Blake.

Cover Art Adventures

As a writer, we’re supposed to hate and eschew clichés like vampires do garlic and crosses. They should make us shrivel and cringe, and sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t and we reach right into that trow of overused phrases and sprinkle them around our prose, anyway.

Here’s one that I hate and that makes me cringe: Don’t judge a book by its cover.

Now, as a cliché (i.e. we’re not actually talking about books but about people) it doesn’t work because we all USE our “cover” to send messages. That’s why goths dress the way they do, and punks and why business-people wear all the same boring suits :) . I’ve grown up a fat chick with a pretty face, and like everybody else, of course,  I’ve always been aware of being judged by my looks, but just as aware of the messages my choices in clothes and make-up etc. send to people. That’s why we wear clothes. And even if we don’t care (and quite often I don’t, I just dress in what’s comfortable) that still sends a message that we’re the kind of people who don’t effing care what we look like when we go to the grocery store.

So I reject the cliché. Don’t be a superficial asshole, but also stop pretending like how we dress, what we say, how we act in public says NOTHING about us as people. Of course it says stuff about me. Not everything, by far. And most people may be inept at reading all those signals correctly, who knows, but there’s a correlation between a person and their “cover”.

I also reject the premise: There is also a correlation between a book and its cover. And it’s intricate and fascinating and it’s something to love and explore rather than just put off as superficial, image obsessed internet culture.

I love good covers. And I love the process, too. After writing, it’s kind of the funnest part of this whole publishing deal, and I have to admit, the fact that I get to design my own covers and work with artists and do all of that, is one of the biggest incentives for self-publishing for me. Because yeah, I don’t like that lack of control, leaving the public, outward representation of my work to people who aren’t me. I LOVE doing them, love the process of creating a cover that is not only pleasing to the eye, but also represents the content, the genre, the target audience, and yeah, your own brand. That’s fascinating stuff.

When By the Light of the Moon was first published, I did have some impact (i.e. I was asked to describe a few possibilities and I had the opportunity to suggest small alterations), but I was never happy the cover. I always felt slightly weird asking people to read my book, almost like I had to say “I know, I know what it looks like, but please…? Could you do that thing that I don’t believe in and reject, where you don’t judge the book by its cover?” And that’s an uncomfortable position to stand and to market yourself and your book from.

The re-release cover of By the Light of the Moon is different. I can fully stand behind it and say “I love this cover.” That doesn’t mean everybody will, or that it will connect with anyone who chances upon it, but I love it. I can stand with both feet on the ground, shoulders back, chin held high and promote it.
It took ages to get there, though (which is e.g. what a good cover says. It says that the publisher or author believes in the book enough to spend ages, or a lot of money working it out). I think I have at least 10 different cover mock-ups for By the Light of the Moon on my computer. And I don’t mean evolving ones (then we get into the hundreds), but complete separate ideas from completely different source images. In the end, the only one I sort of liked would have relied on a very expensive photograph and I just didn’t (and don’t) have 500 bucks to blow on a cover. So I went back to the drawing board and changed my tack. It’s fantasy, after all, maybe photography is the wrong way to go.

Landscape without Owain-wolfy.

Landscape without Owain-wolfy.

Now, I am very lucky to have grown up in a family of artists and so I could go to my grandmother (whom I chose because I thought her personal style resonated most with my writing and my ideas for a cover, and I still hope I didn’t somehow insult my grandfather by not asking him). And we talked a LOT. I told her about the book, about my ideas. She talked about painting proportions and constraints and in the end, she painted something that I liked, but that I also didn’t know how to use. It was a little too colorful, with too much going on and at first I completely despaired of ever getting this right.
In the end, and after soooo many attempts, I found a way to limit the color and the busyness of the painting (if you want to compare, I took out most of the reddish/purple hues from the dress, the sky etc. and pumped up the real red in her hair; I got rid of her hands and the shore at the bottom of the painting and yeah, in the end, I added a tree that wasn’t there for color contrast balance).

Roswit Balke, my grandmother, working on my beautiful cover.

Roswit Balke, my beautiful grandmother, working on my cover.

This time around, and for Lakeside #2, I could take all those experiences on board and give my grandmother a much better idea of what I needed. And I think it shows. I was there yesterday to look at the progress, and we sat together, talking, looking at pictures of wolves and drew one into different copies of the same painting. It was a lot of fun, but I look at the unfinished work, and I can already see, that i will have to work a LOT less hard to make this a cover. It’s basically already one, and all I have to do is add the title.

I write a lot about how writing is learning. Every day. But this stuff is as well, and I’m really grateful and appreciative of the lessons I am given and allowed to learn on this journey.

Owain-Wolfy is stalking the forest, making his way into the picture.

Owain-Wolfy is stalking the forest, making his way into the picture.

For me, getting really involved with my covers, is almost an extended part of the writing process. It allows me to translate the written word into a visual impression, it makes me think about what my books are, what they represent and how I want them to be seen and i love that part.

It doesn’t always work – i.e. for After Life Lessons, we chose a very calm and thoughtful cover because we did want people to judge the book by it. And still we get a lot feedback about the gory action-ridden zombie bonanza they expected (and didn’t find inside this very calm cover). But that’s all part of the learning process. And it’s all good. It’s all part of the fun.

 

PS: Just putting it out there. I am open to advising authors about covers or helping them realize their dream visual representation. So if you’re still looking for a cover artist and like my stuff, why not send me a quick email at laila@lailablake.com.

Let’s talk about love. Insta-love.

Almost all my characters suffer from what I understand is a fatal flaw in romance novels.

Almost all my characters have a tragic slant towards insta-love.

Now, I don’t actually write romance, as far as I would define it, although Driftwood Deeds
comes pretty close. I think, I write novels with love stories in their side or main plots, usually some kind of genre cross-over, because that’s what makes me happy. But there is still that romantic connection, the nod to everybody who does like to read about love. Like me, like you – like almost everybody it seems, considering that even very male-oriented staples usually feature some kind of love story, love interest or love-related motivation. And why wouldn’t it?
medium_2834306912After (and often enough before) the basic necessities for survival are satisfied, love seems to be one of the forces in our lives that creates the most change, the most flux, drama, happiness, anxiety and contentment, all at once. It’s a literary gold mine. What would 1984 be without the strange, crooked love story between Winston and Juliet? Or even Fight Club, without Marla Singer? It surprised me at the time when I read that Chuck Palahniuk categorized his novel as a love story. It made a crazy amount of sense, when I read it again.

So this insta-love business. I understand why it’s a somewhat hated trope. It smacks a little bit of neglect, of giving your characters something good too easily. And maybe that’s true. Sometimes. But avoiding insta-love completely, would also remove my personal experience of love from my writing. And I don’t want to do that. I want my writing to be real, and honest. Not so personal that you can read some of my stories and feel like I just put my life’s story on your shoulders, but personal enough to transport truth.
For me, love was always quick. And it takes a while to understand that my personal experience is not everybody else’s. So for a long time, the idea of insta-love baffled me. Do we really need reasons for falling in love? Do we need conflict and emotional back and forth? It’s never been that way for me – the reasons and the drama came later.

I’ve read a lot about introverts and emphatic and sensitive people recently, ostensibly in order to put a nicer spin on a lot of my character traits, redefining them for myself as assets. But I came across something interesting, which was that highly sensitive people often report falling in love really fast and head-over-heels intensely. Maybe because there is something about our nervous systems that is easy overwhelmed in general (loud parties, a problem, that news report about the suffering after an earthquake) and of course love can be the most overwhelming of all.

Maybe it’s the romance novel expectation: when the plot is the love story, why throw the prize away a few pages after they meet? I understand that rationally, but in every other way I find that hugely problematic.
For one thing, why is that the prize? Surely the prize is actually being with that person, and realizing you can actually make it work.

It also bothers me, when (usually) the girl doesn’t like him at first, thinks he’s a bit brutish or arrogant or stupid or whatever, and then we spend a novel reading about how she was wrong and he got her anyway. Why do we insist on telling women not to trust their instincts? Instincts are good! We should foster them, try to divide them from our prejudices, hone them and allow them to influence our decisions.
Another way love is oven deferred in books, is due to pride. And again, I understand about not giving away the prize and all, but I actually like reading about people who are open and generous about their feelings. Who don’t hold onto them like little old misers with their pennies. Who are open to falling in love, even if it hurts; who laugh, even at slightly stupid jokes; who cry when something is sad rather than refusing to feel. Why do we so often look down on people who feel.

So you fall for someone and the worst thing that can happen is that it doesn’t work out, you get rejected, you find out he isn’t really that great… yeah, that stuff hurts. And we can learn to deal with that. Especially when we are open about that pain, too.

BTLOTM -- color240x360In By the Light of the Moon, Moira and Owain, once they find a connection, fall in love hard and fast. And I never considered that this might be insta-love. Especially because she is a 19-year-old who’s never been in love before. Isn’t that how we fall in love for the first time? Hard and fast, without reason or pride, absolutely at the mercy of this avalanche of hormones and joy and panic that spreads through our bodies at the sight of his smile, at the feel of his first touch?

I still fall in love like that.

I’m a grown-up now, so I know not to say it. I know that I can only say I am in love with someone when I am ready to make a commitment and, better yet, when they have said it first so I know they are ready for a commitment – but all that is just my head talking, my cultural programming, the knowledge of acceptable word usage. So I use different words, but the feeling is still there.
The truth is there isn’t one way to love, or one definition. Love can be all sort of things, and go through all sorts of phases – but that first flutter, the overwhelming feeling that this person could be someone incredible, why is that so underrated anymore?

Of course it’s not as stable, it’s not a promise, it’s not a guarantee, but isn’t that beauty in it? Isn’t that something that can grow? And isn’t the growth an interesting story, too?
I love Pride & Prejudice, but I still want to shake Lizzie and Darcy because they are wasting so much precious time, so many moments together. They even manage to almost destroy the sweet insta-love between Jane and Bingly with their pride and rationality. And I want to shake them for that, too.

And yeah, I hate insta-love too when it’s about superficial stuff. When love comes from the way someone wears their hair, or the cocky smile on his face. But that’s not all we perceive. I think after even evening together, we can see so much in a person. In their opinions, their jokes, their reactions, the little nuances in their voice, especially in their voice.
I think we should pat ourselves and our characters on the back and trust a little more, give some weight to first impressions and instincts, to sudden rushes of feeling.

Sure, they’ll lead us astray sometimes. But that’s no reason to stop feeling.

photo credit: Brandon Christopher Warren and mohammadali via photopin cc

Episode 17: October Reading Wrap-Up

lilt17

in which Laila and Lorrie wrap up their reading month October and chat the Divergent trilogy by Veronica Roth.
(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? What do you think about Divergent?
And what did you read last month?

Credits:

Divergent hc c(2)
The books mentioned and discussed in this episode were 
Divergent - Veronica Roth
Insurgent - Veronica Roth
Allegiant - Veronica Roth
Free Four - Veronica Roth

The Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
The Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 16: Rewriting

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in which Laila and Lorrie discuss the difference between editing and rewriting, when the latter is necessary and how to do it.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? Do you have any good rewriting stories?


Credits:
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 15: Book Beginnings

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in which Laila and Lorrie discuss hooks, book beginnings and the complicated issue of trying to give writing any rules at all.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you?
What kind of beginnings make you excited to read on?
Credits:
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 14: September Reading Wrap-Up

Lilt14

in which Laila and Lorrie wrap up their reading month September and chat about Janet Fitch, Haruki Murakami and Alice Sebold and the strange experience of reading disappointing books by authors you love.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? Have you read any of these, what did you think?
And what did you read last month?

Credits:

The books mentioned and discussed in this episode were:
Paint it Black -Janet Fitch
White Oleander - Janet Fitch
Norwegian Wood - Haruki Murakami
Sputnik Sweetheart - Haruki Murakami
After Dark - Haruki Murakami
The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
Lucky - Alice Sebold
Wonder Boys - Michael Chabon
Amsterdam - Ian McEwan
Atonement - Ian McEwan
Enduring Love - Ian McEwan
A Child in Time - Ian McEwan
The Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling
Slam - Nick Hornby
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 13: Writer’s Block – Myth vs. Reality

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in which Laila and Lorrie discuss the term Writer’s Block, why it’s so destructive and how to deal with it in ways that helps to keep writing anyway.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you?
How do you get rid of Writer’s Block?
Have you found any root causes you were able to combat?
Credits:

Helpful programs discussed in this episode are:
Write or Die
Focus@Will
Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 12: Writing sensitive male characters

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in which Laila and Lorrie talk about writing nice and sensitive men in fiction and what to look out for and why it’s nothing to be afraid of.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? How do you write male characters? Do you have a favourite male character that you’d describe as sensitive or having some non-traditional male attributes?
Credits:
101 Everyday Ways to be Allies to Women

Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes

Episode 11: The Issue with “strong” Heroines

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in which Laila and Lorrie discuss the term “strong heroines”, where it comes from and why it has become somewhat problematic.

(If the application doesn’t work for you, please click here for the audio-file!)

What about you? What are your favourite female heroines and why?
Credits:

The books mentioned and discussed in this episode were: 
The Harry Potter Series - J.K. Rowling
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
Divergent - Veronica Roth
The Vampire Diaries - L.J. Smith

Our intro music was taken from the Free Music Archive:
GeeNerve - Pink Fish Signs (Take Two).

Filed under: Episodes