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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Buzzreads: The Joy of Literary Quizzes

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Like to read? Like to take quizzes? Katy McGill shows how Buzzfeed literary quizzes can help readers better relate to their favorite stories. ♦

Many readers know the feeling of losing themselves in a book, forgetting for a moment the existence of this world in favor of a fictional one. But is there a way to feel even closer to a story or character than just simply reading about it?
       An even mix of popular culture and social media has helped book fan communities around the world to find a way.
       If you’re on the Internet, it’s hard to ignore the quickly growing popularity of the social media website BuzzFeed Inc. The dynamic company allows anyone who signs up for the website to author articles on just about anything: politics, music, sports, food, etc. One of BuzzFeed’s largest forms of entertainment, however, is their wide collection of quizzes and polls that evaluate the quiz taker’s personality in a variety of ways. A couple examples are “Are You a Good Roommate?” or “How Much of a Hermit Are You?” One of the largest niches in this BuzzFeed quiz community is the book and writing community.
       How many times have you wondered what house you’d be in if you attended Hogwarts? Into which faction of Divergent would you be placed? In which Hunger Games district would you live? Buzzfeed’s quiz community, as well as many other quiz-related social media sites, such as Playbuzz and Quizilla, have given many readers the chance to find out.
       These quizzes, aside from being entertaining, bring the reader much closer to books and stories in a way that many other forms of fan involvement do not. The key is the extremely personal nature of the quizzes; they allow each quiz taker to directly relate to the story and its characters. This is different from fan fiction, a genre of writing that bases its content off of pre-existing fiction in wildly creative ways, where plot lines are often changed and the separation from the actual books is more external.
       There is also more of a genuine connection for the reader because the results of the quizzes are based on very individual personality traits. The questions used to evaluate these traits (and later associate them with a character or place) often have nothing to do with the book, such as “Pick a city” or “What flavor ice cream would you choose?” It’s satisfying to the involved fan to be able to associate simple personality traits such as their favorite type of weather with characters from their favorite book or book series; it makes the character and the story much more real in the mind of the reader and, thus, brings them much closer to the story on a personal level.
       The personal nature of these quizzes also brings together fan communities by allowing them not only to relate to the story and its characters, but to other fans as well. Because the quizzes so heavily consider personality and qualities of the individual, they allow fans—who have already connected over a mutual love for the book—to connect over other things unrelated to the story. These quizzes further create bonds between readers in addition to solidifying the perceived relationships between readers and characters. This provides a concrete foundation upon which fan communities can grow.
       The growth that stems from a fan’s close personal interest in a story and/or its characters can be extremely beneficial to the book itself, as well as to literature in general. Aside from expanding fan communities through common interests and entertainment, readers often post these quizzes and their results on Facebook and Twitter. These posts reach a large audience made up of readers’ peers, many of whom may not have originally been very interested in the story (or have even read it), but whose interest is piqued enough upon seeing their friend’s result to take the quiz themselves. Literary quizzes are not often thought of as a form of advertisement for books and other forms of literature, but when this generation’s draw to popular culture and the internet is considered, it can be a very effective way to generate interest outside of a book’s intended audience.
       Some books and their authors have already taken “official” advantage of these quizzes. For example, J.K. Rowling’s creation of Pottermore, an interactive website, allows fans to visually follow each chapter of the Harry Potter series. The site also engages fans through several quizzes that decide the participant’s “house” or what kind of wand they receive. The quiz, which is based upon the Sorting Ceremony in the book that decides the house of each Hogwarts student based on specific personality characteristics, was created by Rowling herself, showing that she too understands the value of this sort of connection with fans.
       These quizzes are also drawing in a crowd of younger, upcoming authors who write and participate in the quiz arena. Author Emma Lorde has been on both sides of the "pen," both writing and taking literary quizzes as well as writing multiple articles on books and the literary world.
         "I initially decided to write literary quizzes and articles because they’re such a huge part of my identity that it was easy and fun to write," Lorde says. "As a writer, I sometimes struggle to come up with topics I want to explore, but I’m so obsessed with these books and fandoms that writing about them is like breathing. And, logically, I knew that writing about such a niche topic would resonate with the very active and passionate audience for that kind of material."
       Literary quizzes are not the only way out there for young readers to become involved in their favorite books, but fan fiction has been an equally prevalent form of fan participation.
       "Literary quizzes are different primarily because people are a lot less embarrassed to share them!” Lorde notes. “Quizzes are more shareable [than fan fiction] and come with less pressure." This definitely seems to ring true with today's technology-savvy, self-conscious young generation. Sharing the results of these quizzes with friends on social media is not only a fun way to express one's interests, it also brings fans closer together. It's, as Lorde puts it, "a kind of badge of honor, and when you share it you end up often accidentally connecting to people who have similar obsessions."
       Overall, literary quizzes are a fun way to become involved in a book or story you love, but they also draw fans together to create stronger, welcoming fan communities. They represent a literary niche that allows fans to develop their own niche within their respective fan communities and have found a permanent place in the literary world.
       Is your favorite color green? You might be in Slytherin. Is your favorite era the 1920s? Then you might belong in The Great Gatsby. The answers to these questions have always fascinated many of us as readers, but one can be sure to find them in these quizzes.
  • About the Author
    Katy McGill is a senior double major in biochemistry and creative writing or, essentially, an aspiring writer who got stuck in a science nerd’s body. She likes to write sarcastic lead female characters and lots of weird, dark stuff. She is also a lover of the Oxford comma and all things grammatical, but she swears she has no (direct) affiliation with the Grammar Police.
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    Friday, December 12, 2014

    Amazon: Exploring Internships

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    Although Amazon is usually thought of as an online book retailer, they have been branching out into the publishing world, including offering paid publishing internships to college students. ♦

    Over its twenty-year history Amazon has grown from a mere online retailer of books into a powerhouse whose impact touches all aspects of publishing and the larger literary marketplace, from bookselling to editing, publishing, sales, and promotion of literary works. This has famously put them in direct competition not (just) with other booksellers but with publishing houses themselves, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Amazon has branched out into internship programs more closely aligned, historically, with Big Five publishing and a summer in New York than working for a bookseller. Currently Amazon offers a number of intern programs focused on technical writing, copywriting, publishing, content management, materials coordination, and digital editing . . . in other words, offering internship possibilities which cover the full range of literary production, giving college students eager to enter the world of publishing a number of attractive opportunities to do so.
           It’s no secret that internships have become a recognized (some might say necessary) tool in offering college-aged students valuable experience and skills for a future career; in fact a recent study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that there is a direct correlation between internship experience and being able to quickly acquire a job position and maintain it. According to a recent Tech Crunch article looking at the NACE’s findings. “The report reveals that sixty-three percent of paid interns received 'at least one job offer upon graduation' in 2012, compared to the thirty-six percent of grads who had no internship experience. In turn, seventy-five percent of employees that were hired out of internships were retained after a year, compared to sixty percent for those who didn’t.” The report describes a list of twenty companies that are known for the outstanding way their employees are treated and showing a direct correlation between those twenty companies, known to have a discerning and high-level interview difficulty, and those companies who compensated their employees with high wages and excellent experience. Google was rated the best place to intern . . . with Amazon ranked fifteenth.
           Part of what the report highlights is that it’s an intern’s market; the onus is increasingly on companies to fashion an internship experience that will woo the best and brightest into its ranks. The biggest companies—including Cisco, Google, Microsoft, and Earnest and Young, to name a few—are all competing for the top students, trying to win them over by offering competitive wages and benefits, and by fashioning programs that will ease students’ practical and logistical concerns about spending a summer interning. For its part, Amazon tries to account for any worries or difficulties the students may have and to resolve the issues so that it’s easy for a student to intern, including the major concern of geographical relocation. To counter the stress of relocating for an internship, Amazon pays for all travel fees, including food, baggage and transportation, and offers furnished housing and even biweekly housekeeping once the student has settled in. On its University Recruiting page, Amazon states that interns are further offered mentoring, presentation series and resources, and experiences that will ensure a positive work environment. The company also tries to get its interns to stay on with their company after completion of the program, and manages to do this at a high rate (though its success rate might also speak to how Amazon makes its offers, which are good for a specific time, giving the interns two weeks to accept.)
           The website Quora offers a place where previous or current Amazon interns can post about their experiences with the company, including discussing Amazon’s mentorship program and quality of the assigned projects. According to Quora website, the average salary for an Amazon intern is about $5,000 per month along with the benefits; some posters also point to the many perks Amazon offer in the internship such as stipends, discounts, food and meal coupons, events, merchandise, and a 24/7 cab service.
           Beyond the financial perks, many Quora users discuss the general atmosphere and work environment at the company . . . from a both positive and negative viewpoint. “Amazon is filled with smart engineers,” former intern Vishnu Jayvel writes, “and anytime you roam around the office you could find a group of super talented people brainstorming about some interesting challenges. I was highly motivated by my co-workers every day.” Former intern James Wong, on the other hand, describes some of the negative aspects of his experience with Amazon: “As far as the facilities go, I found them lacking. Perhaps it’s because the building is brand new, but we were missing quite a bit of tools here.” Others had a similarly mixed experience, describing their disappointment in the lack of challenging projects, for instance, or lamenting the fact that Amazon’s internships require a lot of work and time, and that it was difficult to find a balance.
           Nevertheless, Amazon’s internship program is marked not only by the sheer number of possibilities for working in fields related to publishing but by the amount of information out there about the experience, and whether the program specifics and perks meet a potential intern’s needs across the board. If one is interested in obtaining an internship at Amazon, the Quora website would a very helpful place to start looking at what Amazon offers, in order to determine if the programs would be a good fit. Not to mention, to get a sense of the biggest takeaway: that these internships can be a valuable asset to students’ futures as a result of the skills gained from the experience, making them eminently marketable for future employers.
  • About the Author
    Shannon LaGassa is a Political Science and English: Professional Writing student at Miami University. She is currently trying to finish the book Cien Años de Soledad and study for the LSAT. She is also a College of Arts and Science Communication Intern at Miami University where one of her tasks is to attend lectures and write summary articles about them.
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    Tuesday, December 9, 2014

    Wattpad: A Very Bright Idea

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    A new way authors can take control of their own work is through Wattpad, a platform that brings writers and readers together to create and edit stories.♦

    Branching out into that big world of writing can be tricky: where does one start on this epic journey? Query agents and begin the waiting game? Start a blog and hope for the best? Shoot for the stars and self-publish that novel you’ve been laboring on for the last three years? While traditional publishing is still the elusive gold standard many writers hope for—the big advance, the large readership, the good reviews—the reality of big publishing is often a long and fraught process from manuscript submission to final book, not to mention a struggle to get readers’ attention and an unfortunate disconnect between author and reader that means one may never really know who his or her audience is, if authors are lucky enough to develop a readership at all.
           But all of this has changed in the digital age; where an author once seemed to be at the mercy of publishing forces beyond her control, today an author can take full charge of the experience of writing, editing, and connecting with readers. One of the best ways authors are taking charge of their own work and its distribution is through Wattpad.com, a website designed for readers and writers to connect and trade off in their roles. Today, the site has over forty million stories to read and twenty-five million ‘wattpadders,’ an affectionate term for their online community. They believe in constantly expanding their database and the types of stories there - you could write a story about coasters bringing about the end of humanity and it could be their next big thing! Each year, the site hosts two contests: the Atty Awards judged by a panel of poets and Margaret Atwood herself, as well as the Wattys where writers can submit non-fiction and fiction shorts to be carefully reviewed by authors from around the world. There are endless possibilities with Wattpad at your side!
           The site offers a writing platform geared toward making the process as easy and accessible for writers as possible—it automatically saves your work to avoid losing chapters, has the option of a timer where you can set certain chapters to be released at different times throughout the day (or a given week), and more. It is not rare for a writer to post all of their book on the site, but those with the most followers publish a chapter or two a week to grab the reader’s attention and keep them interested in their role as a writer. Some provide the whole work on the site while others may give most of their collection or a little bit and provide an option to buy their work on sites like Amazon.
           When asked to describe Wattpad, writer Janelle Ruiz explains that it is a big part of her creative experience: “It is a platform for me to share my stories and hone my craft. It is not every day that you get to have instant feedback on your writing, and you get that very easily on Wattpad. Social reading offers writers the tools to improve on their craft that traditional publishing or reading couldn't.”
           Ruiz’s role as a Filipino Ambassador for Wattpad focuses on this community aspect of the site, from searching for Filipino stories to promote and share to relaying user concerns to Wattpad Headquarters to organizing get-togethers and events in the Philippines. On top of maintaining this role, Ruiz—also known as ‘greenwriter’ on the site—is herself a successful Wattpad author; her story “The Bachelor” was selected by Pop Fiction, an imprint of Summit Books dedicated to publishing Filipino Wattpad writers, for a print run, while the online version has received over 13 million reads (and counting). When asked how she feels about that number, Ruiz says, “It is overwhelming, but I don’t let it get to my head. What matters to me the most are the comments and votes, because they give me a glimpse of what my readers are thinking, and it can be a very powerful tool I use to improve my works.”
           Fellow Wattpad author Eric Edstrom, who is currently in the ‘Featured’ section for one of his many stories, agrees that the readers really make the experience, and he admits that many of his readers respond to characters and scenes in ways he’d “never expect.” Wattpad offers statistics on its author dashboard which show where readers became disinterested in or even abandoned a story, allowing authors the ability to edit the content and work on problem spots to keep readers coming back (and to know what kinds of issues to watch out for in later chapters). Still, even though Wattpad offers such invaluable information and a platform for refining stories and even full books for publication, Edstrom—a self-published author with books available on Amazon and Goodreads—admits that, although he loves the phases of publishing, “It has been a bit of a challenge getting over my own unconscious biases against self-publishing.” Meaning that if you’ve been having doubts about this method of releasing your work, and whether self-publishing is the best avenue, then you are definitely not alone.
           There are other websites that offer a similar approach to sharing creative content without going through the sometimes-frustrating traditional routes associated with the publishing and media industries, like HitRecord.org. The site, started by none other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt, offers several creative outlets in addition to reading and writing, such as video design, music, and art. It also offers the option to add onto someone’s work and expand the idea, so long as the original artist agrees. This is a great tool for those wanting to do more than just write: you not only collaborate on a project, but you reimagine the original idea into something much bigger than you ever intended. These types of sites offer an outlet for your work, confidence boosts, and helpful, immediate critiques all for the simple price of your quality time.
           Edstrom believes Wattpad is a good place to start for writers and recommends beginning by going back to your roots as a reader. The community aspect of the website plays a big part in the grand scheme of it all, from Beta readers to Critique Committees, all within the reach of your fingers to assist you whenever and however. “Wattpad is a rapidly growing platform,” Edstrom says, “and its reach is incredible. They don't have a business plan—and neither do I—but I believe that in the long run, having tens of thousands of readers who know my name and love my writing cannot be a bad thing.”
  • About the Author
    Whitney Claypool is a Junior Creative Writing and English Literature double major at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. In her spare time she enjoys singing, star-gazing, and attempting to master all dishes she sees on the food network (a work in progress).
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    Monday, December 8, 2014

    Novels and Films: The Benefits of Playing Nice

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    Photo credit: hariputra |

    The age-old argument "Which was better, the book or the movie?" is given another spin by Emma Kete, who tells of the benefits of filmmakers and authors working together. ♦

    In the book The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks, there’s a section in the back featuring an interview with the author wherein Sparks explains that Miley Cyrus, the lead in the movie The Last Song, approached him with a request to star in a movie written by him. From there, Sparks wrote the script for the movie to serve as a vehicle for her . . . and then later wrote the book The Last Song.
           “I received a phone call from Jennifer Gipgot, a producer associated with Disney (and the sister of Adam Shankman, who’d directed A Walk to Remember),” Sparks recalls. “She said that Miley Cyrus loved A Walk to Remember, that she wanted to do something in the same vein, and then asked whether I ‘happened to have a story lying around.’” He then replied that he didn’t have anything started, but shortly thereafter he started writing the script for The Last Song.
           While a number of Sparks’s previous books had been sold to Hollywood studios before they’d been completed, none of them had been sold to Hollywood before they were even books, making The Last Song obviously quite unique.
           Since Sparks’s first book The Notebook was published in 1995, he has written eighteen successful books, nine of which have been turned into movies. He’s built a fanbase by and reputation of producing sappy romantic movies set in North Carolina with very similar storylines, and the films based off of his books have featured popular actors such as Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams, and Zac Efron. Because Nicholas Sparks is such a household name, movies that include “based off the novel written by Nicholas Sparks” hold the promise of big box office. Likewise, since Sparks has a literary reputation as well, readers know what to expect when another book by him gets published: they either flock to shelves and devour another romantic novel, or suspect that this book will be like all the last ones and avoid buying the book.
           But this particular arrangement—a book based off the film written by Nicholas Sparks—is something new. And it raises the question of the relationship between books and films; it’s clear that films have long benefitted from their relationship with novels, but how do books benefit from theatergoers buying tickets? Most of all, do film adaptations diminish or add to the experience for loyal readers of a particular book?
           The novel The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was an enormous success when it was published in 2012; as the book was gaining in popularity, Hollywood naturally bought the film rights, expecting a major hit. Hardcore fans of the book were worried that the movie would stray away from the original plot of the book. However, the producers of the movie and actors made sure to keep as much as possible original to the book.
           Originally, Green didn’t want to sell the rights to the book; as he said in an interview with Bustle.com, he was scared that if he put it in another person’s hands they would misinterpret his vision in creating the movie. The producers of the film promised him a faithful adaptation of the book and convinced Green they’d attempt to make his vision into a movie. Green later said that they kept true on every promise and that they gave him a very rich, rewarding experience that he could’ve never imagined.
           The fandom of The Fault in Our Stars was so strong that it inspired the actors from the movie and the author of the book to tour the country. Even before the film was released, fans were showing up at malls to meet and greet the stars and watch exclusive clips. Since these events were relatively low-key, they didn’t expect many people to show up. However, when they saw that thousands showed up at each location, they realized the power and reach of the book, and the hordes of loyal fans that came with all of it. And John Green moved from beloved author to the status of a national celebrity when the movie came out, touring with the cast and meeting fans who were obsessed with the book and the film.
          The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogies sparked significant popularity in their succeeding movies, but they were really nothing like the experience with The Fault in Our Stars; for one, with The Hunger Games and Divergent premieres, the authors were nowhere to be found. The fans were obsessed with the books and the movies, but the main focus was on the Hollywood actors and actresses, the big-budget spectacle, instead of the author and the characters in the book. Whereas the mutually-beneficial relationship between the mediums was a little easier to see with The Fault in Our Stars, which was extremely successful when first released and became even more successful once the movie was released. Once people saw the trailer—and all the hype that came with releasing a new movie—they were more intrigued to read the book; a new cover on the book featuring the actors in the film likewise grabbed consumers’ attention, and book sales spiked again.
           And that’s how it should be. Even if the mediums operate differently—and have at times operated somewhat at odds—there’s no reason the two can’t recognize the mutual benefit that comes from adapting books into films . . . or even, in Nicholas Sparks’s case, adapting a film into a book. Embracing the relationship between books and movies will help both ticket sales and novel sales, and that benefit gets passed on to viewers and readers alike.
  • About the Author
    Emma Kete is a professional writing major and marketing minor at Miami University. She has traveled to 11 countries and enjoys leisurely reading whenever she can.
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    Sunday, December 7, 2014

    Journaling: Why You Should Do It, and Do It Without Apology

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    Photo credit: Caroline H. Browning |

    The idea of routinely writing about our lives can conjure up skepticism and even derision. As writers, our creative pursuits can convince us that journaling would be anything but beneficial. Reviewing what it offers tells a different story.♦ 

    Nothing better represents our opposition to chronicling our lives than the way we cringe at the words “Dear diary.” We writers seem as apt to resist as anyone else, despite our love for narrative and our belief in its worth. This reaction probably has something to do with our attitudes towards maintaining a diary, or journaling. We gender-cast it as decidedly feminine, and that it requires regular and rigorous concentration on our experiences makes it a stigmatized ritual. We might be left with more than one unflattering assumption about those who choose to do it.
          For starters, investing the necessary time, willingness, and energy in journaling can suggest we prioritize focusing on ourselves over other activities, ones outside ourselves. With our saturation in social media, do we really need more “me time”? To fill pages upon pages with personal details begs another question: Do any of our lives—so ordinary—provide substantial enough material for journaling? We might suspect people who keep a diary believe their lives are in fact brimming with conflict, and they see themselves as the exception. Perhaps we can almost hear them saying, You wouldn’t understand.
       Based on this thinking, we might see journaling as conceited and self-absorbed, or melodramatic, juvenile, and “woe is me.” We do not want to be that person. If nothing else, we might simply shrug and say we couldn’t possibly picture ourselves keeping a daily record of our lives. Sure, it may be valuable for others, but we would find it dull, pointless, and painful. It isn’t for us. Besides, we have characters calling our names, and their lives seem far more interesting. And are we so quick to forget that some of us believe we write to get away from our lives and ourselves?
        Reluctance and doubt—rooted in this thinking—whispered to me like mad when I started journaling steadily senior year of high school. I’d had a stint in fifth grade, and again sophomore year of high school. Some days I still doubt its importance and feel reluctant to keep at it. (I am a writer, after all.) Yet, I haven’t stopped.
         Here are the five reasons why:

    1. Greater retention of memories

    Psychological research indicates that writing by hand improves memory of that information, as does contextualizing the information within a narrative framework. Writing about an event within 48 hours is best for retaining details. Granted, there is no shortage of studies demonstrating our memory of events is mostly inaccurate, especially considering we do not retrieve memories, but reconstruct them. What matters when it comes to journaling, however, is what you believe, feel, and think. We are all unreliable narrators, but that does not diminish the significance of what we put down on the page. If anything, our skewed perspectives make our writing that much more insightful: they reflect and reveal who we are.
         Memory is how we have a basis for knowledge and understanding of our lives—of anything. When you journal and strengthen its preservation, you’re better informed of where you have been and what those points in time mean to you going forward. Not to mention, you give yourself a place to visit to relive moments that are worth it.

    2. Opportunity to evaluate and direct your focus

    Part of what you learn from journaling is what is worth remembering and what is not. Remembering certain painful events is important for what they teach us, but others are transient and trivial—a spat with your friend, a hitch in your plans. A week that just wouldn’t go your way. Of course, it’s difficult to know which memories are which until hindsight kicks in, but we also often know when we’re being unfair and dramatic. As you accumulate entries, you’ll become better and better at distinguishing “brands” of pain. You’ll train yourself to write when it counts, when there is a distinct pattern of smaller hurt or something isolated but grueling. With any luck, your mind will follow your pen, and your behavior will follow your mind.
         Knowing what to hold onto and what to relinquish serves your creative writing, too. When you don’t lend painful events weight they don’t deserve, they don’t swell in your mind. Those that do warrant deeper processing and greater retention, then, receive just that. Stephen King has said, “A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” Artists famously create out of personal darkness, and if you don't let every fall in life leave its mark, you’ll see the true scars for what they are.
         On a cheerier note, journaling conditions you to turn your head towards whatever grips you and make note of it. When something elicits from me a passionate, visceral response, I remind myself in my phone to journal about it. In this way, I’m prepared daily for something compelling to come my way, and my brain knows it. Journaling is a lot like keeping notes of creative thoughts you have during the day. Just knowing you’re armed goes a long way towards what comes next.

    3. Discipline building

    Don’t run. I’m not about to tell you that journaling daily is a non-negotiable must. I do recommend giving yourself no more than a week’s grace period between entries, with two weeks reserved for when life is especially unmerciful. It happens. The point is, once you overcome your fear to commit, and your fear that you’ll lack time, material, or interest, so long as you journal regularly, you reliably exercise your writing muscles.
        This routine does nothing but feed your writer self. True, those muscles aren’t at their most creative in this context. Nonetheless, pen is meeting paper. Just as important, you show yourself that you can meet deadlines (by imposing a timeframe within with you must write at least one entry) and maintain a schedule—and reap rewards for such discipline. In making yourself write even when you don’t “feel it” or deem it necessary, you’ll sometimes come up pretty dry. Sometimes, though, you won’t, which might just make you less lenient with yourself the next time you sit down to creatively write and tell yourself it’s not a good time.

    4. Psychological healing

    Psychological research illustrates that writing about emotional upheavals has a cathartic effect. In Writing to Heal, social psychologist James W. Pennebaker testifies that people engaging in “expressive writing” report feeling happier and more positive after writing. Their depressive symptoms, rumination, and anxiety diminish over the weeks and months following their writing on emotional events.
         To maximize your sense of relief, Pennebaker recommends writing without disturbance for at least 20 minutes straight, ignoring grammar and spelling and writing only for yourself. He further recommends writing about something very personal that you find important, and limiting yourself to situations you can handle in the here and now.

    5. Ability to better understand yourself

    This is the big one: the greatest result of journaling, and the most obvious.
         When you journal, you have the opportunity to delve into yourself, turn your mind and heart inside out. You grant yourself unlimited psychological access to who you are—your motivations, your fears, your desires, your goals, your past. Your grime and your gold. You have the ability to understand yourself as well as you understand your characters, all the while (hopefully) respecting yourself enough, as you respect them, to be open to surprises—moments of spontaneity and deviance, as well as stretches of regression or growth. And because you’re writing it all down, you can revisit yourself. You have effectively fossilized your most valuable parts.
         Never will getting to know a human being, including yourself, not serve your creative writing. In fact, you are the single most important person you will ever meet. Richard Kelly, writer and director of the 2001 cult classic Donnie Darko, shared this insight about his protagonist in an interview: “There are a lot of parts of Donnie that are a part of me. That’s inevitable. Art is personal. For me, all artists I admire expose themselves.”
         So, expose yourself. If you aren’t interested in your own story, you might struggle telling anyone else’s. Legitimate it. Get close to it. Actively spend time with it.
         Michael Martone has a lovely metaphor about writing: “A story is a controlled crash.” With the range of our control, our lives in many ways are controlled crashes as well. The meaning making inherent to journaling, the attention to detail, and the progression and pattern detection—they are story backbone, even those we tell ourselves about ourselves.
          If you start journaling, chances are you’ll thank yourself for it.
          Your characters definitely will.

  • About the Author
    Caroline H. Browning is in her third year as a Psychology-Creative Writing double major at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She attended Antioch Writers’ Workshop Young Writers Program in 2011 and owes it to finding her two best friends—both writers—and a kickass mentor named Katrina Kittle. She has a novel underway (still) but can’t complain.
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    Monday, December 1, 2014

    Am I a Fangirl Now? Reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane

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    If you've struggled deciding whether or not to read a Neil Gaiman work, quit fighting it and start reading his adult fantasy novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane.♦ 

    I am usually stubbornly wary of bandwagons. Universal acclaim makes me suspicious, and that suspicion that I am being forced by the mobs to love certain things unfortunately keeps me from enjoying stellar shows like Game of Thrones or The Wire until years later. I am typically more susceptible to waves of fandom in regard to books (Babysitter’s Club series, anyone? Gone Girl? The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo?). But somehow I made it into my third decade of life without reading a Neil Gaiman book.
           Now, I know not everyone reads Neil Gaiman books. Yet, I’ve always felt a certain twinge of guilt at not jumping on that particular bandwagon. I resisted because amongst my younger friends it seems as though love for Gaiman is nearly required, as is participation in the cult of his personality (his Twitter feed, the movies made from his books, and his wife Amanda Palmer’s music). I felt like being an avid Neil Gaiman fan was a kind of obsessive work, and I’ve never been interested in joining clubs that require so much attention span from members.
           However, this summer I came across a beautiful, haunting cover on a staff selection book in Joseph-Beth Booksellers. It was Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, with a woman floating under dark water at the top of the cover. The review blurbs that crowded the book exclaimed that it was a perfect capsule of childhood within an adult fantasy novel. I sighed and decided my Gaiman resistance had come to an end, and proceeded to devour the book in a couple of days.
           The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells the story of an adult man who is pulled toward his childhood friend Lettie Hempstock’s house at the end of his old road. He sits down by the pond Lettie swore was an ocean, and starts to remember a horrible adventure from his childhood. The protagonist, who has no name, meets Lettie when he is seven and she seems eleven. Strange things have been happening in their neighborhood, like a coin coming out of the boy’s mouth after a dream, his family’s lodger committing suicide in their car, and a dead fish from Lettie’s ocean with a coin in its belly. The boy allows Lettie to take him on a trip to rid the neighborhood of the nuisance, and he quickly gathers the trip is not just a hike in the woods. He unknowingly serves as a vehicle back to the real world for a monster that comes to be known as his family’s new housekeeper, Ursula Monkton. Ursula is a classic villain who terrorizes every character and has “the hugest, toothiest grin [the narrator] had ever seen on a human face.”
           The monster does battle with Lettie, her mother Ginnie, and her grandmother Hempstock throughout the book. At last they come to realize that, if Ursula is to be destroyed, they'll have to call on another enemy to do it. Given these high stakes, it should come as no surprise that the ending is not without a sense of tragic loss, though I'll not spoil it by saying more here. All of the powerful Hempstock characters are female, which Gaiman explains near the end when the boy, now a man, asks Ginnie Hempstock about the lack of male counterparts. She explains that her brothers went out into the world, and the protagonist asks if Lettie or Ginnie ever had fathers. “No, love. We never went in for that sort of thing. You only need men if you want to breed more men,” is the somewhat tart reply. Ginnie’s explanations, however, leave a ton of questions about the Hempstock past unanswered for me. There is another entire novel about the Hempstock family waiting to be written that goes far beyond this one adventure with a young boy.
           The readability of this book is not in dispute. Although marketed as an adult novel, complete with an adult woman in the titular ocean on the cover, the book only clocks in at a brief 178 pages. The vocabulary in this book is childlike and at times syrupy, with trite phrases like “The ice chip in my heart seemed to warm then, and melt, and I began to feel whole and safe once more,” but Gaiman gets away with it because the boy telling the story is only seven. The author throws in a few more complicated vocabulary words like “inviolate” but the majority of the language is vividly naive. That language makes it possible for adult readers such as myself to speed through the mystery of the boy’s nightmare time with evil Ursula and the magical Hempstocks.
           The content, though structured simply, is not as innocent as an actual children’s story. Gaiman inserts a scene where the protagonist witnesses his father having sex with Ursula Monkton. He is just as afraid of his father wrapped around Ursula as he was when the father attempted to drown him in the bathtub at Ursula’s instruction. The author does not linger on the boy’s witness of his father’s seduction, but it is enough to remind you this is not a bedtime story for actual seven-year-olds. Gaiman also plays up the horror aspect by using every child’s fear that the security of his home will be changed, and Ursula not only usurps the mother’s place but also causes the family to turn on the boy in violent ways. The scenes of horror are somehow more frightening because of the child’s point of view, as in the scene in which the boy makes a break for the Hempstock farm while Ursula chases above him, floating in the air and threatening to have his father trap him in the attic, saying, “every night, he’ll drown you in the bath, he’ll plunge you into the cold, cold water.” The poor boy is automatically a tender, compelling protagonist due to his age, let alone the torture by Ursula.
           It is difficult to write a book about childhood adventure and loss that is satisfying for adults. The Ocean at the End of the Lane succeeds in being a great story woven by a great storyteller, but the actual substance is fleeting once the book has been finished. There are many questions left unanswered at the end, which felt less mysterious to me than hurried. I enjoyed reading the book, but I am more interested in delving into larger Gaiman tomes like American Gods now to see if the great storyteller also has some great prose in his arsenal.

  • About the Author
    Stacey Gunckle is currently a Creative Writing major at Miami University. She has written several articles for the Miami Student, as well as reviews for the defunct Miami arts weekly The Amusement. Future plans include staying in school forever, also known as joyfully working toward a PhD.
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    Stripped Down: How Do Webcomics Make Money?

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    Photo credit: xkcd.com |

    Despite the hurdles and complications involved, artists can still make money from their webcomics. Dave McNamee shares some of their secrets, including content decisions and the "1,000 true fans" idea. ♦

    In the last ten years, money earned from comics-related sales has not been owed exclusively to the success of box office-dominating film adaptations from powerhouses like Marvel and DC. There is a growing community of webcomic artists who, thanks to talent, skilled marketing, loyal fans, and a lot of luck, are able to make a living by publishing original comics online. For these (mostly independent) artists, authors, cartoonists, and publishers, making money from their work is often a daunting task. Yet despite the many roadblocks that can appear along the way, webcomic creators are able to turn their art into cash.
           I have been a longtime reader of webcomics, but I have only recently begun to wonder how the artists are able to sustain themselves doing what they do. It turns out the artists have been wondering the same thing. Converting art into money has always been an issue for artists no matter what medium. Webcartoonists try numerous tactics to make money, from changing the type of content they produce to changing how they present it. Advertisements, merchandise sales, book deals, and Kickstarter campaigns are all ways that webcomics can make money, but fully utilizing these money-making tactics is complicated by the different types of comics offered on the web and the ability to freely access them in many different locations on the internet.
            I once thought that a comic published on the web was just a comic published on the web—that they were all alike, that they had similar functionality. I also used to think that there were little men living inside traffic lights that changed them from red to green. It turns out, as is the case with a lot of things I used to believe, I was wrong. There are two primary types of webcomics. The first type is the easily sharable, viral webcomic. When reading a viral webcomic, you do not have to know anything about the characters or the story to understand what is going on. The second type is the more story-driven webcomic, the type people will visit every day. These two types can be profitable in different ways.
           Viral webcomics are easily sharable, appeal to a wide audience, and often are made using non sequitur jokes and gags. The mark of a successful viral webcomic is that it gets shared as many times as possible in an intense, brief period. These have been made increasingly popular through the social media boom of the last ten years. The webcomic xkcd has been around since 1998, but there was a major increase in site views, advertising revenue, and merchandise purchases after the rise of Facebook. By creating relatable, sharable, and good-looking content, xkcd was able to parlay the massive site traffic into advertising deals. The simple design of the characters in xkcd is a great asset for creating merchandise; even people who are unfamiliar with the comic are still able to relate to the merchandise being sold because of its mass appeal and the topical and relatable content which is put onto this merchandise—shirts, mugs, water bottles, mouse pads, etc.
           The story-driven type of webcomic requires different marketing strategies. These types of webcomics, such as Octopus Piefollow consistent storylines which must be compelling and original to keep readers coming back day after day. This type of webcomic will still make money from advertisements and merchandise, but due to the loyal fan base creators can expect to make more money off of print sales (e.g. books, collections, and prints) than a viral webcomic would. Kevin Kelly, the founding executive editor of Wired Magazine and a former editor of Whole Earth Review, proposed the concept of “1,000 true fans” which explains how these types of webcomics are able to make money. The idea of “1,000 true fans” is a paradigm-shifting philosophy on how you can build a lasting, sustainable business on the backs of just one thousand raving fans. When you create something like a webcomic, you can assume that you have at least one thousand people out there that will purchase what you are selling. They want to see it, they want to support you, and they want you to make more. Theoretically, these core one thousand fans of yours will spend, on average, a day’s worth of wages on the product that you are creating. This principle is the driving factor behind moneymaking in content-driven webcomics and requires the artists to be much more involved and connected with their fan base.
    Cartoon by Nedroid Comics
           Despite the growing success of the medium, webcartoonists are facing issues that have been preventing them from capitalizing on the maximum revenue that they could be receiving. Because of the vastness of the internet and open source sharing websites such as Reddit, many comics can be shared without credit or links to the original source. The "I made this" comic, made by Nedroid Comics, perfectly illustrates this issue. When work is distributed without credit it creates a big problem. Artists are no longer capitalizing on their advertisement revenue, and the loss of new visitors to their site means that authors are potentially missing out on new loyal fans that would become part of their “1,000 true fans.” Losing out on fans, site visits, and potential merchandise sales is losing out on money, and in a business where establishing a sustainable income can be tough, this can make or break a comic.
         It is up to the dedicated fans of comics (and the creative strategy of the artists making those comics) for the webcomics industry to stay profitable and continue existing. By innovating the way they market their products to keep readers coming back, artists will be able to keep turning their webcomics into a reliable source of income. And by giving credit to the work of an artist and not cheapening their product, fans can help artists continue to generate a livelihood off of their passion. Webcomics are more than a hobby for artists, and many would want their work to produce a sustainable revenue. POW! BANG! CA-CHING!
  • About the Author
    Dave McNamee is a senior Creative Writing major at Miami University. He was born and raised in Washington D.C. He enjoys the music of Hall & Oates, a strong cup of coffee, and comfortable couches. After college he plans to move to Los Angeles, pursue a career in television writing, and, one day, figure out what the McRib® is actually made of.
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    Hollywood Booked for Adaptation

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    Books are remade into movies all the time, though book adaptations are often met with disappointed fans. But is the filmmaker at fault here, or the medium itself? ♦

    We’ve all been there. Sitting in a dark movie theater, anticipation mounting after months of waiting. You'd read the whole book in one sitting, it was that good. But as the opening credits roll and you mentally flip through the pages of the book, this creeping sense of disappointment sets in. You leave the theater wondering where the film went wrong, explaining to your friends how you would’ve done it better. But why exactly are you disappointed? What were you even expecting? But more importantly, what effect do adaptations have on the literary world and its loyal readers?
        One of the basic reasons that readers find film adaptations disappointing—other than completely omitting parts of the book—is because the films deviate from the reader’s uniquely realized imaginative world, and lack the influence of personal experiences. To understand this, the film must be considered as a reading of the book in its own right. There are screenwriters and producers who help transcribe literature to the new medium, which contains its own prescribed format and expectations, but specifically, it is a reading that resonates with the film director, who has taken the screenplay and transformed it into his own vision, a process that closely mimics the distinct cognitive action of reading. Warner Brothers might disagree, but in this way, the readers are the original directors, their reading stimulating imagination’s motion picture. The Hollywood version then clashes against this internal film that the reader so intimately constructed, and inflicts offense. It’s as if the film is accusing the reader that their experience and memory of the book in question, is a misconception of the intended authorial truth. One possible way a film could satiate the critical eye of the reader is if the reader, himself, made the movie. Then would a movie finally be thorough enough, long enough, and accurate enough, to encapsulate all the specific sentiments distinct to a reader, and quiet the irritated fanboy in all of us.
         Let’s now consider how film adaptations might affect widespread readings of books. Franchise films based off of books can, in a sense, become the collective imagination for the public. If true, this means that images presented on the cinematic stage can directly impact future readings of a novel. The polished Hollywood interpretation conflicts with and even overwhelms the reader’s imagination, inserting Hollywood caricatures in place of our own personal visualizations. For example, when reading Fight Club after seeing the movie, one will be inclined to perceive the character Tyler Durden as a likeness of Brad Pitt, rather than some mental construct personal to the reader. Therefore Tyler Durden’s actions or mannerisms expressed in the book will be conveyed visually, within the mind of the reader, in terms of Brad Pitt’s performance. Because of this, the original written nuances of a character may become corrupted by a film’s portrayal of said character. This is not to say that the reader is too dumb or unimaginative to construct the written world of Fight Club by himself or herself, but rather, that the reader will be inclined to piece together the story with images they remember from the film.
           This may not be a universal truth, but it is a reasonable assumption that images presented in movies can become symbols and icons within their own specific contexts. This can be thought of in terms of a picture book. Younger adolescent readers may be comforted by the approachability of the picture book format. Whereas a chapter book can seem mundane and intimidating, a book with pictures presents readers with illustrations that accompany and compliment the text, serving as an invitation for the reader to construct their own story around the provided images. Picture books don’t necessarily force a singular reading of a story, but rather they encourage the imaginative qualities of reading, providing foundational illustrations that can stimulate creativity and ease readers into the story. So when considered in this light, films become the metaphorical pictures in our larger, cultural novel.
           In addition, film images have the tendency to permanently bleed into the literary world. It is not uncommon that a novel will bask in the limelight of their film debut. Seriously, think of how some books substitute their original cover art with a modified movie poster to attract new audiences, as if the mere fact that a book was granted a film counterpart is an indication of quality. Take the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower for example. The book was lucky enough to have a decent film adaptation, but, in doing so, the film has completely rebranded the novel’s identity. The book is now adorned with famous faces that flaunt glamorous smiles like the newest publication of People’s magazine. Put harshly, the new art has vandalized the original work. It’s not some terrible literary crime, but every time you close the book in reflection, you will encounter Emma Watson staring back at you in judgment. The problem here is that her face is a part of the reader’s reality. Miss Watson’s image is everywhere, and her “realness” can infiltrate the literary world and ruin its private illusion. It is hard to imagine that this rebranding provides any effect but to alienate the reader from his or her own imagination. The book no longer serves the purpose that a good novel should; instead it has become one long preparation for the main cinematic event.

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          Yet despite my assertions, film adaptations are not the assiduous spawn of Satan. Some may prove a disservice to loyal readers but at the same time garner a cult following of their own. This might cause a literary elitist to frown, but visual adaptations have the capacity to generate new communities that enjoy a good narrative, without acknowledgement of a literary precursor. Cable program The Walking Dead, a reincarnation of a graphic novel series, is a relevant example of such. The episodic television version has become so widely popular that no notice is given to the severe injustice done to the original text. I’m sure there exists a minority of viewers unsatisfied by the show’s failure to capture the same tone inherent to the graphic novel, but the television show has become a force of its own, a stand-alone cultural product. Its success has granted independence to the point where knowing a defaced comic lies in the show’s wake has become more of fun trivia rather than a recognized truth. The adaptive result is not unfair, necessarily, but comparing the literary work with the cinematic as one creative unit is.
           So what does a good film adaptation look like? Well, it’s hard to surmise. Literary accuracy appears to be at the forefront of importance, but even if by some miracle every plot device and snippet of dialogue is brought to the silver screen, there exist variables, subjective to the film’s creators, that will disagree with the reader’s experience. The bottom line is that books and films are two different languages entirely, and while translation may be attempted, it can’t be properly accomplished. Sure, there are good movies that happen to be based from books, but that only means they are good movies. The context of their imagery may be inspired by and pay tribute to a book, but exceeding the constraints of film is not within their capacity. This is because films are static. They are pre-interpreted communal experiences, which can only be viewed at a certain remove. This is not to say that movies are incapable of immersing the viewer and stimulating emotion, but that they cannot claim the same intimacy and personal experience that a book provides.
       On the other hand, literature surrenders control to the reader. A book provides an unchangeable framework of characters and plot, but the interpretation of such cemented events is left to the reader. Readers experience the story on their own terms, encouraged to construct literary worlds and their nuances in a unique way, much like their own Hollywood production. When film adaptations attempt to capture the same literary world, however, their iterations confuse the reader’s ability to interpret the story without outside influences. So maybe it is naivety that is the source of disappointment. Expecting a movie adaptation to contain the same experience received from the pages of a novel is an error of judgment.
           Just reread the book.

  • About the Author
    David Shanks is an aspiring writer without aspirations. He has convinced himself that the stork mistakenly dropped him into the wrong era, but he finds consolation in classic literature and John Denver. When not using his wit for evil, David enjoys such outlets such as hiking, chess, and indulging in arthouse films.
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