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Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Joys of Listening: Why Audiobooks Are on the Rise

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As e-books decline and print makes meager gains, audiobooks have become the literary format to beat. ♦ 
Just the other day, I spoke with a friend about an upcoming reading that Miami University’s incredibly resourceful Creative Writing program had set up. The department managed to convince Sherman Alexie, three-time PEN Award recipient, to visit Miami and read from his young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. This friend of mine asked if I'd gotten a copy yet, because apparently the university bookstore was charging an arm and a leg for one (your soul if you paid with cash). I told her I had and said she could borrow it, since I’d also bought it on audio.
   Oh, the look on her face . . .
  “You can listen to those?” she asked, in obvious disgust. I told her I enjoyed them. She scoffed. According to her, no one uses audiobooks anymore. They’re just not viable.
   Now, there’s no argument that the literary world has experienced a few blows recently. Don’t believe me? Major bookstores like Borders and Waldenbooks have fallen to the wayside, the landscape is being flooded with self-publications, and the e-book format (what was supposed to be a saving grace) hit its peak in 2013. In a report from the Association of American Publishers (AAP), the U.S. publishing industry netted a revenue of $11.9 billion in the first three quarters of 2015, which is a 2 percent decrease from 2014, and while print sales have seemingly come bouncing back, the overall numbers don’t lie; there’s a problem in the publishing world.
    But audiobooks might just be part of the solution.


The Platform is in Your Pocket


Believe it or not, audiobooks have been around since the late 1800s. Early models, which were cylindrical in shape and fit into a phonograph, only held about four minutes of audio (imagine having to lug Infinite Jest around with you). Over time, as music evolved beyond the phonograph and adapted to technological advancements, spoken text followed suit. Audiobooks were sold in vinyl formats during the 1950s, cassette tapes in the 70s, and this eventually lead to compressed formats in the 90s. With the rise of the internet, digital downloads suddenly became possible, and portable media players transformed the audiobook format. In this new era, the interested reader can access their libraries with the speed and efficiency previously reserved for streaming cat videos and Beyoncé’s latest hit. Books now sit in our pockets, behind a lock that’s only opened with your fingerprint, in a little app on your home screen.
   While writing this, I was sitting in a busy coffeehouse. I had just pulled out my phone, swiped to My Library, and started a 71.4 MB download of Alexie’s novel. In the time I spent correctly arranging the words within this paragraph, my phone had already placed The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on the third shelf of my digital bookshelf. That’s magic, no? Never before has the world of literature been so cheap and readily available. It only took me a few minutes to go from browsing to listening. The best part: I fit it in my pocket, plug it into my car, or play it through stereos while in the shower. Unlike traditional, printed text, the audiobook offers convenient listening anytime, anywhere.



Bundling and Subscriptions


Being a book aficionado can get expensive. Unless you’re buying classics, it’s hard to find a good book for cheap, regardless of whether you look in stores or online. Personally, I restrict myself to one new book a month, or suffer the consequences of financial mismanagement; typically, the punishment for overspending consists of ramen for a week. But with the growth of the audiobook markets, I’m no longer forced to choose between reading and eating. Some services, like Amazon’s Audible.com, offer cheap monthly subscriptions, show you top sellers and books specifically tailored to your interests, all while conveniently bundling titles for better deals. For a mere $14.95 a month, Audible offers a book credit, discounted prices, and free audio subscriptions to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
   Even I, lover of small presses and independent writers, can’t help but fall for the romantic deals Audible offers. Given that audiobook sales are sharply on the rise, it’s becoming evident that I’m not the only one.



The Voice Talent Just Keeps Getting Better


Unlike print, audiobooks are entirely dependent on the voice actor to represent a character’s speech faithfully. Listening to The Bluest Eye with Toni Morrison’s soft voice weaving through every word can make a grown man tear up. On the other hand, hearing the words of a girl (who in your imagination is a beautiful, raven-haired mystique) spoken with the voice of a British chap trying too hard to project from his chest will instantly remove you from the scene. Over the past few years, audio publishing companies have become more aware of this, which is why the voice actor is so important to the listening experience; the audience wants to escape into the story, and finding the right voice for the job can make all the difference.
   Nowadays, it’s relatively easy to produce your own audiobook. The release of simple recording applications and programs (like the Audiobook Creation Exchange) has given small writers the opportunity to create inexpensive, downloadable, and profitable versions of their written stories. This accessibility encourages groundbreaking and interesting movements in the field, like George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, which features 166 unique voices to bring the story to life.
  Audiobooks may not have netted as much revenue as other media forms in the last few decades, but their progress is astounding. In the beginning, complaints were made about the accessibility of the material; it wasn’t as refined, or as portable. But now, as innovation continues to push the limits of technology, Audiobooks are becoming increasingly practical; I fully believe that in 2017, audiobook use will continue to surge in the literary landscape. The publishing world is going through a change right now, a transformation. More people will rediscover the joys of listening, of having spoken words dance in their heads, just as humans have woven stories for centuries; I, for one, think audiobooks are as much our future as spoken language is our past.
  • About the Author
    Chaze Copeland is a recent graduate of Miami University, earning a major in Creative Writing. He will be working towards his Master's at The New School this fall. Chaze feels a little weird talking about himself in the third person, so learn more about the author at chazecopeland.com.
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    From Grimm Ever-Afters to Censored Once-Upon-a-Times

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    Our classic fairy tales have shockingly sinister origins. So what does their transformation to family-friendly entertainment tell us about ourselves? ♦ 
    “Once upon a time . . . ”
       No matter how old you are, these are powerful, magical words, possessing a strong narrative connotation as the start of the traditional fairy tale as well as a strong nostalgic association. In fact, I bet you’ve just flashed back to your childhood, tucked into bed as your parents read you a bedtime story of knights in shining armor, fair maidens locked in towers, mystical mermaids, fantasylands, and so much more. But our contemporary conception of fairy tales as family-friendly classics that almost invariably end in “happily ever after” is pretty far removed from the darker, more grisly tales that inspired them.
      Let’s go back to nineteenth-century Germany when two infamous brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, first put together a collection of traditional fairy tales. The stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, far from the popular, lighthearted versions we’re more familiar with today, were often shocking and quite gruesome. I hate to burst your bubble, but the Disney version of Cinderella you know so well has been dramatically altered from its source material. The original tale wasn’t filled with cheery little mice, a delightful fairy godmother, and a simple shoe-fitting that leads to happiness and marriage; instead, in the Grimm fairy tale, the wicked stepsisters cut off parts of their feet in an attempt to fit into the golden slipper, and their eyes are plucked out by birds as punishment for their falseness.
       Or consider The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, another fairy tale writer from the Brothers Grimm’s era. Compare the original to the well-known animated version and you'll see that Disney made drastic changes throughout the story. In the original, the little mermaid sacrifices not only her voice but her entire tongue to the sea witch and agrees to endure the excruciating pain of feeling like she is walking on knives with every stride she takes on land. On top of everything, she doesn’t even win over the prince! These are only a couple of examples of classic fairy tales that are pretty different from Disney’s “happily ever after” versions, which have been so altered that it’s even led to a term—“Disneyfication"—to describe the process.
       But Disneyfication, in spite of the term's mostly negative connotation, isn’t really a cynical marketing move on the part of an entertainment empire looking to make a buck; the process of transforming these tales has its roots in the art of oral storytelling. Fairy tales originated as oral tales passed on by word of mouth, not written down, thus holding the ability to be modified by the storyteller to fit the needs of the audience. It's a common misconception that fairy tales were created for children; actually, they were originally meant to be a form of adult entertainment, which makes sense given that the tales often contained raunchy or gruesome content. Over time, though, the audience for these tales shifted toward children, and at least part of that shift is thanks, once again, to the Walt Disney Company, which took many of these original fairy tales and transformed them to be rousing entertainments geared toward children in both their stories and themes. Children admire fairy tales and especially hold on to the idea of a “happily ever after” when something unfortunate is going on in their lives. This even carries over into adulthood, as we continue holding on to fairy tales with a death grip in an effort to understand reality, or sometimes to escape its grasp.
       Jack Zipes is a retired professor of German at the University of Minnesota who specializes in the social and political role of fairy tales and has successfully translated the entire Grimm collection into English. In his essay “Spells of Enchantment,” Zipes writes, “Fairy tales provide hope that social and political conditions can be changed.” We tend to remember fairy tales, holding out hope that we can better our world. Come on, ladies, don’t tell me you’ve never daydreamed about meeting your Prince Charming—or, guys, about being the chivalrous knight to sweep a girl off her feet. This is what Disney does so well, and this doesn't only appeal to children but to all of us. After all, Walt Disney himself said, “Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.”
       Family-friendly entertainment is Disney’s goal, so teaching a gory lesson in foot-modification isn’t exactly their prime focus; rather, they concentrate on keeping magic alive and radiating positivity. And our culture has generally admired and appreciated the Disney versions of fairy tales, as parents guide their children toward these positive messages, encouraging them to follow their dreams. We enjoy telling stories that allow us to aspire to change in our lives, and fairy tales have evolved to do just that.
      Stories have been a part of all cultures throughout history, from legends and myths to folk tales and fairy tales; indeed, storytelling is an essential part of both reflecting and shaping society. Fairy tales are unique because they are timeless and geographically unspecific, which leaves room in the stories for broad interpretation. And it’s precisely because of fairy tales’ adaptability that they’ve become an everlasting, utopian, positive force that sustains the hope of the listener, which is what our culture wants: to have the hope that everything will work out.
  • About the Author
    Melissa Phillips is a freshman Professional Writing major and German minor from Mason, Ohio. Alongside her passion for writing, she enjoys traveling, performing arts, and anything Disney. When not busy supervising various locations for the Kings Island Admissions Department, Melissa can be found sitting in King Library—caramel macchiato in hand, of course—studying and writing the night away.
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    Wednesday, May 10, 2017

    An Interview with Pierce Brown

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    As his new graphic novel, Sons of Ares, hits bookshelves, the acclaimed author of the Red Rising trilogy discusses his expanding dystopian universe.  ♦ 
    I recently had the chance to review the Red Rising trilogy of novels—Red Rising, Golden Son, and Morning Star—by New York Times-bestselling author Pierce Brown, and like many other readers, I was floored by the incredible writing and the exciting twists and turns of the story. Published between 2014 and 2016, the trilogy has met with wild critical and fan acclaim for its originality and fresh voice, and in the next year, Brown will be publishing two new works set in the same universe: the graphic novel Sons of Ares, a prequel to Red Rising which hits shelves on May 10th, and Iron Gold, a sequel to the series with an expected release of January 2018.
       Being a fan of Brown's work and excited to see the world of the trilogy expanded upon in the forthcoming books, I got in touch with Mr. Brown, hoping to pick his brain about the future of Red Rising, and I was ecstatic to receive a reply.
       In the following interview, Brown discusses his ambitions for the series going forward as well as topics including representation and writing minority characters, the influence of the social sciences (and his mother) on his work, and choosing the best dog names.


    Throughout Red Rising there are a lot of strong characters from traditionally underrepresented groups, like women and LGBTQ members, who are shown in new and refreshing ways. Was this something you did intentionally, or was this just a natural development in your writing?


    There’s that old saying: you write what you know. This generation has been the boldest and most progressive in recognizing the inalienable rights that belong to all of us. Combine that with the fact that I’ve lived in nine states, went to around twelve schools, and I’ve had friends all over the spectrum, and it’s only natural that my writing is influenced by the people I’ve met along the way.
       As for women—my mother was one of the first, if not the first, General Manager of a TV station in the country. She had those badass 80s powersuits with the padded shoulders. She’s a powerhouse. And if my female characters are lacking, I’ll damn sure hear about it.


    Your books have received a huge response from readers in the annual Goodreads awards and impressive showings in Unbound Worlds Cage Matches (Go Ragnar!). Why do you think your books have gotten such a strong response?


    There’s a sense of community around these books. A feeling of being in on the secret. It gives people who may not otherwise be friends a way to speak the same common language. Also, I think the books offer a damn good adventure—and those are always the sorts of books I'm drawn to.


    What can readers expect out of the upcoming Iron Gold series and Sons of Ares graphic novel?


    Size and scope. Iron Gold expands the Red Rising world to huge proportions. Instead of just Darrow, we will have four POV characters whose stories will weave in and out of one another’s as the Rising struggles to hold onto to the reins of power. Sons of Ares explores the origins of the Sons of Ares, as well as how their founder came to be the man he was.


    In college you studied political science and economics. How did that translate into becoming a writer? With such political content, do you think your studies influenced your writing at all?


    Both of those disciplines are considered social sciences—that is, the study of people and how they interact. Both heavily influence how I portray interactions in Red Rising. I draw specifically on Locke, Hobbes, Aristotle, Plato, Napoleon, and Nietsche.


    What was the hardest part of the trilogy for you to write? Conversely, what was your favorite part or scene to write?


    The beginning of book three. Without giving anything away, it was difficult because of the change that Darrow had undergone. Favorite scene was probably the duel with Cassius at the gala. My honor has been pissed upon and I demand satisfaction!!


    Any news on the Red Rising movie in development?


    No news as of yet. It is a very thorough, slow process.


    Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?


    Don’t be too self-critical. Understand that your writing is going to be shit at first. Then you’ll get better. And better. And you’ll relapse. But you’ll keep writing, and then one day you’ll have a finished book and realize it's perhaps not so shit after all.


    As a self-proclaimed nerd, do you have a current nerd obsession?


    I’m neck-deep in re-reading Harry Potter.


    And finally, out of all the badass characters in your books, why did you name your dog Eo?


    Because she was lost on the streets, dirty, red, without a home, and had the sweetest little manners. Easy choice.
    Pierce Brown's Sons of Ares, the prequel to Red Rising, is available today at fine comic book stores everywhere.
  • About the Author
    Megan Mooney is currently a junior at Miami University majoring in Creative Writing. She loves reading books and drinking coffee. She also loves hanging out with friends who are steaming hot and wrapped in a portable to-go cup. No, wait, that’s just more coffee. She doesn’t have a problem.
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    A Review of the Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown

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    Shocking, violent, as heated as the current political climate, Pierce Brown's Red Rising trilogy will keep you burning through its pages.  ♦ 
    I’d never heard of the Red Rising trilogy until a friend mentioned it to me. She and I were on the subject of what we’d been reading lately, and she said she’d re-read the first book in this series six times. I thought if something was that good, it must be worth a shot, and I was intrigued by her description of the book, which she said was along the lines of The Hunger Games, with a dystopian vibe due to a controlling government and plenty of rampant bloodshed.
       I read the first book in the series, Red Rising, in two days. (I would have finished it sooner, but it was so good that I wanted to make it last.) I then got the second book, Golden Son, and finished that in about the same time. After that book crushed my heart like the beautiful, infuriating little masterpiece it is, I borrowed the third book. Morning Star, from my friend. This one squashed a bit of my soul when I realized I'd finished one of the greatest book series I’d ever read. All in all, I had ripped through the series in little over a week, and I already wanted more.
       Luckily, the incredible author of the books, Pierce Brown, seems more like a writing machine than an actual human. Next year, Brown will be releasing a follow-up trilogy further expanding the world he has already created. Additionally, he is working on a prequel to the original series in graphic novel form and penning a screenplay of Red Rising for Universal. Someone may be slipping some Red Bull into his drinks, or maybe he injects it through an IV. Either way, his many fans are happy with the rapid and prolific production, as shown in the quick ascent of his books on bestseller lists. His first novel debuted at No. 20 on the New York Times Best Seller list, the second hit No. 6, and the final book shot straight to No. 1.
      The plot of the trilogy, which is set several hundred years in humanity’s future, centers on a young man named Darrow. one of the brightest talents in his mining colony of Lykos, located on Mars. His day job is that of a “Helldiver,” one who operates the gargantuan drills made for the mining of precious Helium-3, an element necessary for terraforming new planets; humanity has spread across the solar system, finding homes on most of the planets and their larger moons.
      In this futuristic society, people are not separated by religion, ethnicity, or nationality, but rather by Color. The Gold class is the ruling elite and held in esteem above all others; Greys are the police, Silvers are the financiers, and Whites are the clergy, to name a few. You can only be born to your Color, which is not just a title but also refers to physiological and anatomical differences such as height, bone density, and vision capabilities. The Color differences in this societal hierarchy demonstrate how societal divisions (i.e. racism, sexism, gender, etc.) have morphed over the centuries in this fictional landscape.
       Personally, I found this to be one of the best parts of the books. Though prejudice still exists, the only barrier the people in this world face are the Color-caste they are born into; such prejudices as those against women, sexual orientations, or racism based on ethnicity or nationality are no longer considerations. There are never any assumptions that a woman is lesser than a man, or any notions that being gay or trans would in any way effect your social standing. So, who rules this planet-spanning civilization? A woman. The most feared and capable warrior of all the planets? A woman. The wealthiest person in the entire solar system? A gay man.
       This is the trilogy’s greatest message: no matter the barriers that society inflicts upon you, or those you are born to, you can always rise above them.
       Taking a closer look at Darrow, he and his people (the Reds) are in the lowest caste of society, basically slaves for the Golds and other Colors. After he suffers a great tragedy, Darrow is taken in by the Sons of Ares, a rebel group fighting the tyranny of the society. However, he isn’t certain about them until they reveal the truth—that Mars has already been terraformed, rendering his class’ work pointless.
      Shocked at the lies he’s been fed his whole life, Darrow joins the Sons and accepts their mission for him— to infiltrate the Gold class. After being transformed into one of the rulers of society, Darrow is sent to the Institute, a proving ground for the best of the Golds.
       Darrow’s adventures at the Institute are the focus of the first novel and resemble novels like Hunger Games or the film Battle Royale, in which the youth must battle it out, largely to the death, to establish their dominance and earn victory. The young Golden elite do this in a fight for supremacy, forming and breaking alliances. to come out on top and secure their futures, and the blood quickly starts to flow. Brown certainly is not averse to gore and violence, so if that is not to your taste, you may want to stay away.
       Despite the hardships he faces, Darrow is able to navigate his way through the Institute while learning about leadership and warfare. However, in everyday Golden society it is more important to know how to talk your way out of a problem, as Darrow discovers in the second novel. He soon adapts and pits enemy against enemy to create a destructive civil war. All the while, he and the reader are questioning what kind of person he is, if he can so easily turn his back on the Golds he befriended in the Institute. Not to mention, he worries about how they will react when they find out what he really is.
       Even though the basic plot may mirror other works, the manner in which Brown approaches it is not only refreshing but shocking. He doesn’t wrap anything up nicely in a bow but rather presents the story much like life is: complicated, messy. He is similar to George R.R. Martin in his tendency to kill off beloved characters, and throughout the series, the devastation of war is never held back, as the trilogy is written in the first-person, present perspective. The reader experiences everything first-hand with the characters, which, along with the blistering pace, leads to a very intense read.
      The violent nature of the books is juxtaposed with beautiful writing that creates startling imagery and incredibly well-formed characters who break all molds that came before them. Darrow is a good example, as he’s not the typical uber-masculine hero. For example, in the second novel, he admits to his love interest that he probably cries more than she does. And she is no damsel in distress but a warrior and strategist in her own right, exemplifying the kind of strong female characters the series is rife with.
       The Red Rising trilogy is filled with shocking violence and mayhem, yet it always manages to retain its heart. Darrow is the classic underdog, coming from the literal pits of slavery to overcoming the strongest empire in human history. If that’s not empowering, I don’t know what is. It’s a story of disenfranchisement and power, and how political machinations link the two. With this series, Brown serves up a contemplative and original piece that will always keep the reader waiting anxiously for what’s around the corner.
    Read Megan Mooney's "An Interview with Pierce Brown" here.
  • About the Author
    Megan Mooney is currently a junior at Miami University majoring in Creative Writing. She loves reading books and drinking coffee. She also loves hanging out with friends who are steaming hot and wrapped in a portable to-go cup. No, wait, that’s just more coffee. She doesn’t have a problem.
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    Saturday, May 6, 2017

    The Memoir Boom: A New Trend Millennials Love

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    Isolated by technology, millennials are using memoir to find connection ♦ 
    What do Angela’s Ashes, Eat Pray Love, and Hillbilly Elegy have in common? They’re all famous memoirs, and have received critical and public acclaim that extends past their publication date. These memoirs are fan favorites and household staples, and I, for one, have clung to many in my favorite reading chair well past the light of day. Memoirs often become hit box office movies, perfect to go see with your friends. Even if the books don’t make it to theaters, they become bookstore essentials. For years, the memoir has been vying for attention, facing stiff competition from famous fiction favorites like the Harry Potter series or The Hunger Games trilogy. Since the early 2000s, however, memoirs have been gaining ground, hitting best-seller lists and steadily growing in popularity. So you may be asking yourself, what’s going on? What changed?
       Millennials seem to be the answer to everything lately; they’re not only reading more than ever, but they seem to be especially interested in reading memoirs. Reading for fun has become a hipster habit of sorts, with bookshelves turned into art and coffee shops littered with cozy readers. These trends are certainly keeping Instagram followers and house guests entertained, and it doesn’t seem to be ending anytime soon. Millennials are playing a big role in this movement, and there are a few possible explanations.
       The most significant of these is the way millennials are changing social interaction. As millennials, it should be no surprise that we need human connection, but we frequently use technology in ways that cut us off from the rest of the world. We have our eyes glued to the screens of phones and laptops all day, headphones secured in our ears, and though we think we’re fully connected through social media, the truth is that we’re far away from the face-to-face interactions that form the foundation of deeper human relationships. Soon enough it all just becomes background noise, full of scrolling and isolation, and we realize we need a break; we need something more; we need something authentic and meaningful.
       Look no further than the memoir. Memoirs give the reader a sense of realness and honesty that fiction can’t quite dish out. Because these rich stories are based on the experiences of real people, they live and breathe raw truth and relatability, something millennials crave. The act of reading someone else’s story, seeing the genuine faults and triumphs of someone who has lived it, makes a reader feel closer to the author. We flip through the pages, feeling the emotions of the writer, seeing the world through their eyes, knowing that the emotions and sights are authentic. When millennials are immersed in digital reality and surface-level interactions everywhere else they turn, it makes sense that they would crave deeper, genuine connections, and memoirs are there to give the reader just that.
        There have been many kinds of memoirs rising through the ranks. Comedians like Amy Poehler and Steve Martin have released their own memoirs, showing that humor is possible even when life gets rough; Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild is an emotional piece that brings readers to tears and inspires them to find beauty in life; J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy speaks to what it’s like to come up from a rural, impoverished home and all the challenges Vance faced to become who he is today. And there are even opportunities for ordinary people to share their stories, as technology has made self-publication much cheaper and easier for independent memoirists. Memoirs come in an array of shapes and sizes, and odds are you can find one that fits your personality and interests. But the most important qualities of memoirs aren’t simply that they’re well-written, interesting, and a good way to spend your time. Instead, their best qualities are the messages they’re able to impart, the lessons they can teach you along the way, from one person to another.
        Take, for example, Elizabeth Gilbert’s renowned memoir, Eat Pray Love. A woman is caught at a point in which she is trying to figure out what she wants in life. After her marriage fails, she tries to navigate what should come next, and decides to travel to Italy, India, and Indonesia. Through her travels, she has epiphanies about life and learns important truths. As the book journeys through her life, it offers lessons to the reader. Eat Pray Love's popularity is a testament to how many people took Gilbert’s tale to heart, holding onto each and every word and working to incorporate it into their own lives.
        Eat Pray Love is such a perfect example of what most millennials are going through (maybe not the budget to travel around the world, but bear with me). Many of them are in a place of deciding what they want for their lives. They may be thinking about marriage, or their career, or none of the above. Millennials may be scattered, nervous, anxious, hopeful, excited, overjoyed, or all of these wrapped up into one. This can be a wild ride and above all else they find they just don’t want to feel alone. You can imagine why someone of this age, with these feelings, would be attracted to a book like Eat Pray Love. A person with these emotions wants to know they aren’t the first to go through a struggle. A fiction book may help a little, but deep down, the reader knows it’s not quite real. When that same reader opens up a memoir like Eat Pray Love, they know a real woman out there has been through the same struggles and came out of it—alive and well!
        Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes is another example of how memoirs are becoming increasingly popular. This inspirational story follows Frank’s childhood and early adulthood as he overcomes poverty, his father’s alcohol addiction, and deaths of those close to him. He works hard, and occasionally bends the rules to get to New York City, pursuing a better life for himself and his brothers. The reader follows Frank through his turmoil in Ireland, and roots for him as he lifts himself up and works toward a life-changing goal. This memoir is not only popular in terms of pleasure reading, but is also great for teachers and students alike. Many high school classrooms use this book in the hopes of teaching students about resilience, the realities of poverty, the struggles of alcoholism, and the American Dream. Angela’s Ashes will change the way you think, which is exactly what a good book should do.
       It looks like memoirs are here for the long haul, so fill up your bookshelves, maybe snap a photo for Instagram, and cozy up to a good cup of coffee in your favorite reading chair. And while you’re enjoying this trend, you can check out the top memoirs of this past year: maybe you can find your newest human connection.
  • About the Author
    Kendra Tuttle is a sophomore at Miami University with a major in AYA (Adolescent Young Adult) Language Arts Education. She is an active member of Miami HELPS and Project Kids Network. She enjoys writing, reading, gardening, and being outdoors in her free time.
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    The Literary Sky is Falling, How Wonderful for Us

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    With alternatives to big publishing on the rise, writing has become anyone’s game.  ♦ 
    Welcome to the new era of publishing. The literary marketplace is currently reeling in response to the collapse of the traditional publishing model, a collapse initiated by self-publishing, Amazon, and even the invention of e-books. Combined, these factors are allowing for a new, emerging world of opportunities for authors. Writers and content creators of all kinds may find themselves asking, “Just why is there such a dramatic paradigm shift in publishing?” In large part, this change has been the result of digital innovation; the internet’s existence played a crucial role in connecting creators and consumers on a global scale, and independent publication has emerged as a more viable option because of it. What may be a more important question for writers is, “What aspects of the craft are available now that were absent during the old guard?” The answer lies in the rapidly expanding avenues for expression, a brave new world just waiting for writers to embrace and create forms, structures, and genres that were previously ignored or dismissed. The here and now has the potential to be a literary period marked by creativity, variety, and technological influence. No longer do we authors have to pander to publishers and mass-market appeal to be successful in the literary marketplace. All hail the rise of the experimenting author, and the true development of individual style and voice.
       With the rise of the internet, publication is becoming a best-fit practice, a choice between traditional, indie, Amazon, or self-publishing. This means that, whether your project is out-of-the-box or working within it, there is a way for you to distribute your project to your audience for digestion. So take that chance, make an interactive e-book like HAAB’s SHERLOCK: Interactive Adventures, or take Chuck Palahniuk’s concept for Bait even further by pioneering the choose-your-own-adventure coloring book. Who knows what will work until we as authors have given people a chance to try out a new style or genre? After all, some of the most celebrated authors throughout history challenged the status quo of what was proper and what was ahead of their time.
       Publishing as we know it is currently bleeding out due to the closing of most brick-and-mortar bookstore chains, the loss of sales to Amazon, and the rise of indie- and self-publishing. Even though the “Big 5” publishing houses (Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster) are still profitable, their stranglehold on the industry has loosened to a firm grasp. Once we accept this fact, we can begin to enjoy being the generation to recreate what it means to be an author. To those already working within the industry, or those with concrete expectations based on the ways of old, this suggestion may be alarming, if not terrifying. If you are one of these people, let me be first to tell you that everything is fine; you are now free from the bondage of the old paradigm. The freedom I speak of is freedom from structure, style, modality, genre, any aspect that currently exists as part of your writing, really. The fabled gatekeepers of old are dying off; no longer are writers required to pander to the “Big 5,” who base their choices on minimizing risk and sticking to projected quarterly profit margins. Now is the age where the whims of your heart and the curiosities of your mind can truly shine. We have an array of new technology, and with the path no longer blocked by traditional publishing restraints, you are free to try any (and every) thing you’ve always wanted.
       “So,” you might ask yourself, “I can write anything and everything, but does that mean all the weird things I’ve always wanted to write will be successful?” The answer, sadly, is a resounding no. Just as in the past, the success of your work is still at the mercy of its reception by literary scholars, critics, and the public at large. If money is your goal, pandering to the masses is still the quickest path to success. However, back in ye olden days of publishing, it was the publisher who dictated what the public would and would not like. The publisher’s decision was based on what they felt would get them the best profit margins without taking large risks. This unbending profit-based decision-making has lost certain publishing houses huge franchisees in the past, including J.K. Rowling, who sent her first Harry Potter manuscript to 12 separate publishing houses before Bloomsbury finally accepted it. Though rejection will still be a daily part of the brooding writer’s life, it will no longer keep the writer’s work from reaching those who do find it appealing.
       We live in an age of technology that makes mass printing easy, formatting simple, and modality nearly endless. As a profession, authors are only beginning to peel back the layers, discovering the possibilities that lie within new and traditional styles. For writers who work within popular genres, and those who are experimenting with something new, writing now has a multitude of options, options that the authors who inspired us could not even dream of. With the gates thus opened, it would be criminal for today’s authors to maintain limitations and boundaries instead of breaking them down. Write in the obscure genre that publishing houses usually never even spare a glance. Take the traditional crime mystery and flip it, spin it on its head, make it an interactive e-book requiring readers to look for clues and solve puzzles as it unfolds. Whatever your passion may be, and however you’ve dreamed of doing it, now is the time to take action; get out there and write something that pushes those boundaries, inspire others to do the same, and let’s see what happens.
  • About the Author
    John Meade is currently in his senior year as a Professional Writing and Creative Writing major at Miami University. Hailing from Lexington, Kentucky, he enjoys the wilderness of the Appalachian area that he grew up around in his youth. If he is not out enjoying nature or in class, he can be found consuming media content or writing some of his own material.
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    Wednesday, May 3, 2017

    Rock 'n' Roll (Over) for Celebrity Books

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    The celebrity book boom has been profitable for publishers, but is it hurting new writers’ chances of success?  ♦ 
    Whatever kind of writer you are—amateur or professional author, copy editor or copywriter, journalist or poet—you know that the marketplace has been changing significantly in the past several years. In the digital age, the demand for print books has generally diminished, and technology makes writing and editing much easier, even for the average person. Though the platform is shifting, writing and accurate editing are as important as ever. Digital content production and social media are booming.
       But, buckle up; the competition is growing. There is one trend that is beginning to push aside professional writing: books written by celebrities.
       Yes, it’s surprising. We don’t expect celebrities to know anything about writing memoir, much less to have the time in their crazy schedules to write a sixty-thousand-word novel. Celebrities primarily have their professions to worry about, whether they are in music, movies, or politics, and, on top of that, their families, social lives, and other events. It makes sense to have ghostwriters pen autobiographies for celebrities, most of whom are not educated in writing, editing, or design. But memoir, which includes celebrity books, has spiked in popularity. According to Nielsen BookScan, memoir sales increased by over 400 percent between 2004 and 2008.
       Peter Hook, former bassist of New Order and Joy Division, has published three books about his life in music: Unknown Pleasures, Substance: Inside New Order, and The Hacienda. The original manuscript of Substance was three hundred thousand words, one-third of which made it to publication. Simon & Schuster published the book in October 2016.
       Hook had no help from a professional writer to pen his story. And Substance was only one of three books he has written in the past nine years. Meanwhile, he still continues to regularly perform and tour with his own band, The Light. Even Hook’s former bandmate, Bernard Sumner, published his own autobiography in 2014, despite his involvement with New Order.
     In 2012, Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band published an autobiography with HarperCollins. In 2011, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith published his autobiography, Does the Noise in My Head Bother You? Bruce Springsteen published Born to Run in September of last year. John Oates of the popular eighties duo Hall & Oates wrote his own memoir, Change of Seasons, expected to be officially published on April 4.
       At the other end of the spectrum, Irish author Donal Ryan is one writing professional who is feeling the effects of a celebrity book boom. He recently returned to his day job in the civil service in order to pay his mortgage, which is not supported by the forty cents he makes from each sale of one of his books. Despite signing a deal and getting advances for three future novels, Ryan still cannot cover his mortgage and two children with the money he makes from his writing.
      The bottom 50 percent of writers make less than $12,815 annually ($4,000 less than a minimum-wage job would earn). That is not nearly enough to live on. Only 12 percent of authors made their living solely through writing in 2013, compared to 40 percent just eight years prior.
       Working writers also find that the competition is tough when it comes to getting advances and pitching ideas to publishers. Even when ghostwriters or professional writers are hired to pen the work, the appeal of a famous person publishing a book dominates the pitches of lesser-known hopefuls. With competition already tough, a new pool of celebrities would wash out the bottommost population of writers trying to publish.
        So let’s look at the raw odds of being published.
      Publishers Weekly reported in 2006 that the average published book sells less than five hundred copies, despite 80 percent of Americans expressing a desire to be an author. There are millions of Americans hoping to be published authors, but the majority of them will not sell more than a few hundred copies, even if they do get published.
        But this shouldn’t be cause for losing hope.
       John Grisham’s A Time to Kill¸ his first novel, was rejected twelve times before publication. Chronicles of Narnia author C. S. Lewis was rejected (allegedly) a good eight hundred times. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was turned away twenty times. Even billionaire J. K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter novel was rejected twelve times before selling well over eleven million copies. All of these authors were once hopeful writers just like any others, hoping to be published and paid to do what they love.
        Despite any rise in the popularity of celebrity books, there will always be people who look out for, appreciate, and prefer the work of a professional. Writers, don’t lose hope.
  • About the Author
    Tyler Rigg is a senior Journalism and Professional Writing major. He enjoys running, reading, writing, and music (yes, all genres). When he’s not doing one of these four things, you can assume he is either sleeping or dead. He enjoys writing alternate history novels and hopes to make it to publication in the future.
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