Monday, November 24, 2014

Archetype: A Mirror for New Adult’s Unanswered Questions


In her dystopian novel Archetype, M.D. Waters writes of a woman who struggles to define herself in a strange and hostile world she hardly recognizes, striking a familiar chord with New Adult readers. ♦

Who are you?
           What is your purpose here?
           What defines you as a person—and makes you essentially you?
      These are the deepest, most philosophical questions at the heart of M.D. Waters’s dystopian thriller Archetype, the first in a two-book series set in a world where infertility threatens the human race’s existence, and where fertile women have become a rare and valuable commodity, literally. It’s into this environment that Emma Burke, a young woman in her mid-twenties, awakens from a mysterious accident with all the mental awareness of an infant; for all intents and purposes, she is a child in the way she must regain her abilities and outlooks on life. Her mind is malleable, prone to being imprinted upon by the first person to pay her any kindness, which happens to be a man named Declan Burke, an attractive, powerful man who claims to be her husband, though Emma has no recollection of him. Declan is with Emma every step of the way in her recovery, coaching her, encouraging her, and teaching her the roles she must play as his wife, and she accepts everything he tells her as fact. Why should she not?
       It doesn't take long for Emma to accept her role as Declan's wife; she submits willingly to the significant charms of her husband, and she believes that she could be happy in this new life with her husband, if only the nightmares and the dreams of another life didn't plague her . . . mysterious dreams of a tube of water in which she is held prisoner, a camp in which she is taught how to be the perfect wife, a mission in which she acts as a soldier wielding a weapon, and secret, sensual moments with a man named Tucker. She does not know what to make of these dreams; they seem to be completely unrelated to each other and to her. Her life with Declan, the one he has explained to her, does not comply with the life in her dreams. But as her dreams become more vivid, even coming to her while she is awake, she begins to question whether they are dreams at all. She hears a voice in her head, one that sounds like her own, which may be the source of her waking dreams and the reason she feels so connected to this life they present. Even as Emma starts to fall for Declan, these dreams seem to reveal the holes in the memories he has created for her, which Emma is able to ignore until a figure from her dreams walks straight into her waking life, forcing her to question her husband, her sanity, and eventually her own existence.
       Archetype is a story about finding one’s self and understanding that one’s experiences are not the sum of who one is as a person, that the soul is more complex than experiences and runs deeper than lies are able to touch. Emma’s story is one that explores the grueling questions of what makes a person who she is, and what exactly is a soul? The trope of the strong female lead has perhaps become overdone and played out in YA lit, a genre this book might be considered part of, but to tell this story in this particular world, a female protagonist is necessary, especially one who learns to gain her own footing, who becomes stronger over the course of the novel as Emma resists the life she is told to have by Declan in favor of a life she slowly begins to remember.
       Declan is initially portrayed as gentle, put-together, a loving man—the perfect man, really—but that portrayal shifts dramatically with every new piece of Emma’s puzzle that falls into place. When Emma discovers Declan's secret that he was not her first choice of husband, all the love she had previously felt for him begins to disappear as she realizes that she may have loved someone else before her accident, a depthless love that no amount of lies or amnesia could bury. From this point on, Declan is portrayed as the villain . . . and, in truth, the reasons Declan gives for tracking Emma down and marrying her, despite her true feelings, are flimsy at best. In a novel so craftily written, one that makes great use of narrative, characterization, and plot reveals, this particular motivation doesn't really add up, and this is the only flaw I felt while reading, the only thing that sucked me out of the story just a bit.
       As I said earlier, Archetype could very easily fit the genre of Young Adult fiction for a number of reasons; however, I believe it has a better place in the strange genre of New Adult fiction, aimed at a readership in their early-to-mid-twenties, at an age where people are still trying to decipher who they really are and how they fit into the world, which is no different than what Emma is trying to understand throughout the novel. If you enjoy science fiction, a little bit of romance, some mystery, and a whole lot of action—and especially if you fall into the stage of life when those big questions of identity and finding yourself are everyday questions—then check out this novel. Even if you are sick of strong female leads, Emma will lift your spirits as her character develops and she truly earns her role as a strong female lead, which is enough to set her apart from other dystopian heroines.
       As for the science fiction aspect, I was a bit uneasy about it at first. The genre definitely comes with a lot of baggage, and I never considered myself “in” with that crowd, but Archetype is worth checking out in spite of what you might think about that genre. Waters’s style—the strange way in which Emma does not use contractions; her conversations with herself as if the voice in her head were a separate person; the confusing nature of her dreams—all comes together beautifully by the end of the novel. The story is a complete payoff; what I questioned in the beginning, what I worried about in regards to Waters’s choices as a writer, were things that turned out to be essential to the story and quite brilliant with the full picture in mind. To avoid spoiling the story, I will just say: read to find out how the pieces of Emma’s story fall into place, how she aims to discover the answers to life’s most fundamental questions. If Emma can come to understand her own place in the world, can we all come to understand our own?

Further reading: Once you have devoured Archetype, follow it up with the final installment, Prototype, or the short prequel, Antitype (available in digital only). If a love for science fiction has crept upon you, as it has done to me, then I recommend you also check out the Starbound trilogy.
  • About the Author
    Kathleen Harris is a lover of words. She is one of the current Editors in Chief of Happy Captive Magazine. When she is not writing content for Turning Page (and other publications she hopes to contribute to), she enjoys reading in what spare time she has (which is usually while walking to class). Her true loves include cheesecake and binge watching Netflix. Find her on Goodreads.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014

    YouTubers: Revolutionizing the Video Game Industry


    One online community is using YouTube to create a whole new world for video games, one where content creators and game developers find themselves in a place of mutual benefit. And it’s still growing. ♦

    The video game industry is booming, employing tens of thousands and contributing billions to GDPs, and some individuals are taking advantage of this flourishing market by creating independent businesses from home. “Content creator” is an increasingly popular term, used to refer to an independent person who makes a living by generating content tailored to his or her viewers. The most popular place for video game content creators is YouTube. Before YouTube became the mecca for independent video game content, most game media was consumed through print magazines. Then someone decided to upload some videos of themselves playing a video game and the video game content creator career was born. This new career path has sent shock waves through the gaming industry, having effects no one could have imagined.
           In May of 2009, a Swedish man named Markus Alexej Persson (or “Notch”) uploaded this video of a game he created in his mother's basement. Notch called this game Minecraft. As of April of 2014, Minecraft has sold fifty million copies. Most people attribute the success of Minecraft to its new business model, and its willingness to let people upload as many videos of Minecraft as they wanted. A popular YouTube channel called The Yogscast features two British guys messing around while playing Minecraft. Currently they have hundreds of videos uploaded to their channel, over seven million subscribers, and an average video view count of nearly seven million views per video. While there is a bit of mutualism going on, it is hard to argue that big content creators didn't have an effect on the reach of Minecraft's popularity. Notch didn't create commercials or marketing material for his game. Part of Minecraft's success can be tied to powerful word-of-mouth advertising through videos that were made and posted online.
           While The Yogscast is one of the most influential Minecraft channels, it is nowhere near the biggest video game channel. PewDiePie (pronounced pew-dee-pie) is by far the biggest video game content creator. He has thirty-two million subscribers, more than One Direction’s channel and Rihanna's channel combined. Sitting at the #2 spot on all of YouTube for most views, PewDiePie has weight in the video game industry. He plays a variety of video games and has a unique style that caters mostly to young gamers; dedicated PewDiePie fans are addicted to his shenanigans while others typically strongly dislike his immature, rambunctious style.
           When PewDiePie starts to play a new game on his channel, that video game receives a noticeable increase in sales and traffic. Other content creators call this phenomenon “the PewDiePie bump.” The effects are so significant that some YouTubers will tailor their content based on what PewDiePie is doing (the phrase “catching the PewDiePie bandwagon” is sometimes thrown around).
           Having noticed that certain YouTubers will jump on the next new obscure or silly game, some developers are looking to cash in on the trend. On April 1st of this year, the developer Coffee Stain Studios created a game titled Goat Simulator. The game is about playing as a goat and doing ridiculous things around a small town. Goat Simulator was marketed as a parody of simulation games. The game was purposefully poorly created; bugs and glitches were intentionally left unresolved. The developers explained that they wanted to leave in bugs for comical effect, directly referencing their decision on the game's website: “MILLIONS OF BUGS! We're only eliminating the crash-bugs, everything else is hilarious and we're keeping it.”
           To some, the creation of this game is the first instance of a video game being developed specifically in hopes that YouTube content creators would take notice and make videos featuring the absurdity that is Goat Simulator. Games like Goat Simulator, dubbed “YouTuber Bait,” are made to be so absurd and ridiculous—traits that content creators look for when making new videos—that popular YouTube personalities looking for a lot of views would want to make videos with them.
           And it actually happened. PewDiePie released six Goat Simulator videos that netted him about fifty million total views; that’s fifty million sets of eyes placed on one game and, more importantly, fifty million sets of eyes placed on the advertisements. The developers of the game spend zero dollars on marketing, PewDiePie gets thousands of dollars through ad revenue, and the consumer gets the entertainment they want; wins all around.
           While PewDiePie is the biggest and most known video game content creator, middle-ground content creators also have an impact on the industry. John Bain, also known as TotalBiscuit, is also a well-known YouTube personality in the video game scene. He has almost two million subscribers but his content differs greatly from that of PewDiePie. Unlike PewDiePie, Bain uses his position to benefit both the consumer and the developers are much as possible. His most popular series is his “WTF IS” series, in which he shares his first impressions of different video games. While he makes videos featuring big name games that come from companies like Sony and Microsoft, he also looks at smaller independent games that otherwise wouldn't get much attention.
           In 2013 Bain created a first impression video about a video game called Day One: Garry's Incident in which he levied a lot of harsh criticism. The developers of Day One: Garry's Incident, Wild Games Studio, filed a copyright claim against the video and got it taken down. Bain then made a follow-up video in which he explained the situation; as a result, a mountain of backlash was thrown at Wild Games Studio. His video attracted big press outlets that have ultimately harmed Wild Games Studio's reputation. Eventually the copyright claim was taken down and Bain's video was put back up. John Bain used this incident as a way to show how some video game developers exploit YouTube content creators for free marketing and use unjust copyright claims to censor negative press about their games. Sega, another large developer, used unjust copyright claims against his videos in the past, and to this day John Bain has boycotted all Sega games and removed all of his first impressions of Sega games from his channel.
           The relationship between video game developers and content creators has the potential to be mutually beneficial; some newer video games benefit heavily from free word-of-mouth advertising from content creators, and in return less popular content creators can latch onto a big game to increase their viewership. As more content creators get up and going, the diversity of the content will likely increase, resulting in more partnerships between the video game industry and individuals looking to make a living selling ads on YouTube videos. With the diversity of content creators, consumers can migrate to their favorite channel to get information or be entertained. Big media websites may no longer be the only source of video game content. Luckily, game developers are aware of the growth of independent video game channels and are fully embracing the shift; this is a welcome change and one that I think will be to the benefit of everyone, especially gamers.
  • About the Author
    Currently a student in Creative Writing, Zac Boring is a senior attending Miami University of Ohio. Both his poetry and fiction have been published in Inklings, and his fiction was a part of the 2013 Oxford Writing Festival. He's from the Antique Capital of the Midwest and loves poetry.

    More of the Same


    Your e-reader knows more about you than you might think. But will publishers use this information to introduce new books and authors you'll love, or will e-book ads simply pigeonhole readers into one genre? ♦

    Does advertising terrify anyone else? You are casually watching TV, browsing the web, reading, or going about any other media-absorbing task, and before you realize what’s happening you find you really need to eat that hamburger or to buy those stairs for your tiny dog. (I will admit that second one might just be me.) Advertisements surround us at any given moment of any given day. We are bombarded with ploys to purchase and use just about anything anyone can dream up. Before the advent of the digital age, advertisements were tailored by location, TV channel, or radio station. However, now we have the internet—a web of potential personalization.
           Say you look up a pair of boots one day. Rather than just disappearing into your history never to be seen again, those boots haunt you. You see them wedged into the sides of websites you visit. You see them popping up when you begin to type something into a search engine. The boots will find you. All of this targeting of our browsing habits is for the express purpose of advertising directly to you and your tastes to lure you into purchasing. Everything you look up online becomes an ad targeted particularly for you.
           The question becomes, how do advertisers know what you are interested in? By tracking the websites you visit, the terms you search, and the data from your purchases, advertisers can target you with specific ads. Additionally, data you provide when setting up a social media profile, such as your favorite books and movies, can be used to create your digital footprint. Your choices become fodder for ad agencies to use in personalized advertising.
           With the arrival of e-readers, personalized advertising has infiltrated the literary marketplace in a brand new way. As a consumer’s purchasing habits change, so do the suggested titles on the homepage and e-book deals in emails. Do targeted advertisements benefit the consumer or the advertiser? Consumers are further exposed to e-books they would likely want to purchase, perhaps, which garners profits for the e-reader services and increases consumers’ personal libraries, which can always expand.
           Yet, after my recent introduction into the e-reader world, I realized that my book purchasing habits were actually changing. Rather than browsing through a whole bookstore, I found myself browsing through the sections the e-reader preselected for me, which meant I was reading the exact same type of book over and over again. All the books I was seeing, and then reading, were from the same genre or had similar themes. With a quick glance in my email, I found that over half of the emails from my e-reader service in the last month were specific to one particular genre. On one hand, this is great: we consumers can be kept up to date on what’s new and on sale and be exposed to new authors, all within the same comfortable genre.
             On the other hand, I’m beginning to feel like I‘ve been fit into a literary straightjacket.
           While shopping in a physical store, you have to walk by shelves and shelves of books you might not ever consider ever purchasing. A cover might stop you, or a title, or an author, and you pause to look at this book. But within the confines of e-reader advertising, you might not come across an informational text about the idea of dragons as seafaring dinosaurs. (I have no idea if an entire book on that actually exists, but if it does, someone send me a copy.) As you pause in front of a kiosk in a bookstore, you are utilizing a browsing factor that personalized advertisement can’t approximate.
           Part of reading is opening up to new ideas. Are personalized ads stymying the type of browsing and purchasing that opens up readers to new books, or is this article simply a rant to promote bookstores? While there is little research so far directly related to e-reader advertisements, e-book sellers are nevertheless compiling readers’ data on a scale that’s never been seen before. With e-readers, massive amounts of consumer information on reading and purchasing habits are suddenly available to booksellers. Now booksellers can even know how long a reader spends on each page of each book in each genre. The trend of personalized advertisements in bookselling can only grow with these additional insights into readers’ habits. But whether the end result will be connecting readers with authors and books they’ll likely love—based on the data and algorithms—or simply encouraging them to read more of the same, that remains to be seen.
  • About the Author
    Nicole Getson is generally a tea-drinking crazy cat lady with floor-to-ceiling shelves of fantasy novels. More specifically, she is a teacher by training, a painter by craft, and a writer by trade.

    Why Ban Books?


    School reading lists can be an excellent way to engage students on a number of difficult subjects. But the books on school lists are increasingly coming under fire by parents . . . and for some surprising reasons. ♦

    Do you ever wonder what it would be like to grow up without books such as The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, or the Harry Potter series? Well, if some parents, teachers, and neighbors had it their way, then our childhoods may have been very different. Literary censorship is certainly not a new issue, but it seems to become even more of an issue at a particular time of year, as students begin their assigned summer readings. Today it's often parents looking over their children's shoulders, monitoring their reading curriculum, who are the main instigators for book banning.
           Throughout my own school career, I’ve noticed book banning has become more of a hot topic. While reading Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury in high school, my class discussed Banned Books Week and analyzed the reasons behind the banning of books within school systems. Here are some of the most frequently banned books and the possible reasons for their elimination from school curriculum. These are only seven out of the one hundred books that have been banned in the past ten years . . . some of which you might expect, and others that will almost certainly surprise you.

    1. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey

    I recall seeing this series in the Scholastic book catalogue, and, after being slightly distracted by the sparkly pens that came with them, I purchased some of the books. Other than the fact that the titular superhero is wearing only his underwear and a cape, there is nothing wrong with this satirical take on superheroes. According to the American Library Association (ALA), parents believe the series is too violent, contains offensive language, and is completely unsuitable for children. Though this fun superhero comic book is aimed at younger children, it is still considered inappropriate for that age group.

    2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

    I discovered this wonderful gem during my senior year in high school. This novel resonated so much with me as I was trying to finish the last of my treacherous high school years. It is definitely a coming of age story, and the narrator’s unique voice sets it apart from others of its kind. Unfortunately, there are several reasons that this book is constantly banned: the novel contains drugs, alcohol, smoking, homosexuality, and explicit sexuality. Even though these topics are controversial, a lot of what happens in the novel occurs in high schools today. Instead of brushing these issues, and the book, under the carpet, teachers should use the book to help the students navigate these issues in a healthy way.

    3. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

    Go ahead and admit it. We all read this book in middle school. Even some boys at my school read this infamous novel because their girlfriends were so completely obsessed with it! The novel itself is terribly written, but it isn’t something I would deem worthy of book exile. According to the ALA, the novel is banned because of material that offends certain religious viewpoints, and for explicit sexual situations and content. I guess parents thought it was inappropriate for Edward to sparkle without his shirt on.

    4. The Hunger Games (series) by Suzanne Collins

    If you aren’t familiar with this book, you live under a rock! This book has become well-known not just in the United States but across the globe. Although this novel is very popular, younger readers were initially not used to the novel’s violent themes or the level of seriousness that forced them to question social norms or government issues. Also, the violent nature of the novel was in large part what led to the banning. The specific reasons, according to the ALA, are the novel’s contradiction of religious viewpoints and the novel’s unsuitability for the designated age group. Putting these negatives aside, this series began the trend of the apocalyptic-world genre in other YA books. Novels like The Hunger Games encourage young readers to question their choices and what is most important to them.

    5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

    This novel was probably one of my favorite required summer reading books I ever read because it caused me to rethink some of the things in life that I just accepted. For instance, it made me question my own need for stability and consistency in everyday life. (Plus, Bernard always put a bad taste in mouth, even after rereading the novel many times—seriously, what a jerk!) The novel takes on very serious issues and, according to the ALA, it is commonly banned because of the insensitivity of some character interactions (near the end of the novel when—spoiler!—John is found dead from hanging), as well as for nudity, racism, and explicit sexual situations.

    6. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

    Holden Caulfield was my rebellious icon while growing up; he stuck it to his parents like every 13-year-old dreams of doing. Although the novel was initially written for an adult audience, it contains so many issues that resonate more with young adults (well, maybe not the whole prostitute incident). The ALA says the main reasons for its banning are offensive language, explicit sexual content, and its unsuitability for adolescents. Despite these reasons, this novel is a classic of coming of age. It is about realizing that you are more than just a kid relying on your parents, but a young adult.

    7. Harry Potter (series) by J.K. Rowling

    Who hasn’t read this book series? I grew up on Harry Potter, and my love for reading was cultivated by reading these books. But the books’ occult setting and violent themes have caused the series to be repeatedly, and unjustly, banned. Many parents consider the magical world of Hogwarts to be Satanic and therefore inappropriate for young children to read. How is Harry Potter saving the world Satanic? Silly Muggles. Beyond the fun of such a magical world, J.K. Rowling has created a series that teaches kids how to be loyal, kind, and brave. Children need to learn these things, and this series is a great learning tool.

    The list could (unfortunately) go on and on. Most of the books on the list are ones that I have read and reread, and without reading some of these, I may have turned out differently. I most certainly would not have been such an avid reader at such a young age. Most of the reasons behind banning a book is its “inappropriate” material, but a great way to show students this material is by teaching them the positives throughout. For example, with Stephen Chbosky’s novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, teachers can show their students that it is better to express yourself rather than let every stress in life build up and cause you to harm yourself. These books are tools that teachers can use to show their students the realities of life without them being harmed. So rather than banning these books, teachers should utilize them to help students learn in a safe environment—their imagination.
  • About the Author
    Maggie Ark is an avid reader, dedicated writer, and frequent movie-goer. Over the years she has written an abundance of articles for the on-line magazine The Odyssey and is currently working toward a Bachelor's degree in Professional Writing at Miami University. This is her first article for Turning Page and she is extremely excited to continue working with them!

    Monday, November 17, 2014

    Do Millennials Even Read?


    Millennials have grown up in an instant-gratification world with the Internet and its distractions right at their fingertips. But if you think that means they don't value reading, guess again. ♦

    There seems to be a misconception among people in my parents’ generation that people my age are uninformed and unmotivated. That all we do is sit around and play games on our smartphones while watching stupid reality television, and never crack open a book that isn’t required. While yes, I do enjoy some trashy reality TV every once in a while, I’m also an avid reader, and so are most of my friends.
           When my friends and I go out to dinner together, we don’t sit with our noses in our cell phones, and only talk about what happened on Real Housewives. We talk about our lives, and quite often we talk about what we’ve been reading.
           Now, if we want to compare millennials and the baby boomers in regards to reading, the pictures will probably look pretty different. There’s no doubt that we consume our information differently—whether it be reading Huff Post on our smartphones, watching a satirical newscast, or reading an e-book—but that doesn’t mean we’re not consuming it.
           Think about it from our perspective: we’ve grown up in a time where seemingly anything we want is an Internet search away. We want to listen to a song, we search for it on YouTube. We want to watch a TV show, we pull up Netflix. We want to read a book, we buy it instantly for our Kindles or get free 2-day shipping from Amazon. And if we don’t like said book in the first few chapters? It was only ten bucks anyway, and there are literally thousands more to choose from.
           And the funny part is, our generation had nothing to do with creating this instant-gratification world—we were just the first to grow up consuming it.
           There are still those of us who read the books that could very well end up as the classics of our time. Books written by Jhumpa Lahiri and Mohsin Hamid. But we’re also a group that appreciates the classics from the generations before us—we’re Fitzgerald fanatics, have the hots for Heller, and go wild for Woolf.
           And this group doesn’t just include my fellow English students. My Econ and Stats double major friend recently let me borrow Tina Fey’s autobiography, my architecture best friend asked to borrow my copy of The Bell Jar, and my marketing major roommate raves about Persepolis. What’s my point? That these are just three examples of people my age who read outside of school, and they’re only scratching the surface. It’s not just us crazy English majors that still love the written word.
           And yet, a lot of my friends’ favorite books are popular bestsellers like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter. Maybe it’s not Dickens, but that doesn’t mean these series shouldn’t be respected, too.
           These books are not just pointless entertainment. The Hunger Games, for example, deals with some pretty important and heavy themes. It’s not just about a boy and girl who fall in love—it’s about a strong female protagonist who has to kill other people in order to stay alive in a game imposed by a corrupt government, and saves the boy in the process.
           It’s also significant to note that I know almost as many adults in older generations who read this book as I do people my age. The popular fiction of today may not seem that groundbreaking on the surface, but Young Adult (YA) authors are incredibly intelligent about their audience.
            They’re aware that they’re writing in a culture that constantly has new things at its fingertips. They also seem to know something else: the millennial reader is not all that different from the older adult reader.
           People like to say that millennials will kill print, and maybe even books, and that we’ll only read something if it’s less than 140 characters on our cell phones. On the contrary, a September Pew Research Center study has found that us crazy millennials aren’t that different from the rest of the country. People may not always be reading the newest literary masterpiece, but people are still reading.
           So next time you see a generation Y-er sitting at a bus stop or waiting in line at the grocery store with their nose stuck in their phone, take a peek. You might be surprised to find them reading a New York Times article, or maybe even a riveting e-book.
  • About the Author
    Ellie Cook is currently a senior Creative Writing major at Miami University and is preparing to be shoved out of the nest after graduation. Her hobbies include copy editing for Up Magazine, dreaming up crazy concepts for her fictional stories, and dabbling in the world of sarcasm. She plans to pursue a career in magazine feature writing after graduation.

    Wednesday, November 12, 2014

    Behind the Looking Glass: Alice Across Media


    In an attempt to captivate younger audiences, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been reworked across digital platforms. But is Lewis Carroll's classic getting lost in translation? ♦

    I’ll admit: I’m biased. Given the choice—a glorious, leather-bound book with gilded edges that weighs more than my dog versus a cold e-reader thinner than my phone—well, I’ll surprise you and say I’m totally gonna pick the book.
            I’m of the belief that the blue glare of a screen hurts way more than a paper cut. I’ll read articles and browse websites on my phone, but for the novel, I want that thing in print. Aside from the usual nostalgia of holding a book in your hands, there’s something about the mapping of it, seeing where you’ve been and how much further you have left to go. I’m old enough now to feel sentimental about it. I’m sure five year-old me wasn’t sitting in bed demanding my bedtime story be read from a hardcover instead of Mom’s iPad. Those didn’t even exist yet.
           But what about kids today? What do they think about their experiences with a book, if anything at all? Do they, too, care about the scent of a page, the weight of it in their hands, the look of it on a shelf? Or maybe, more fittingly, the ability to scribble their names backwards on its pages? Does the format even matter, so long as they’ve got the guts of the story in front of them?
          In this increasingly digital time, storytelling has had to consider countless new definitions. The dear old book has things like film, video games, and alarmingly addictive apps to contend with. Classics like Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland have to adapt accordingly, translating themselves into these new forms of media, to be able to reach newer generations.
          Or do they? Regardless of where you stand on the issue of print vs. digital, these variations in narrative are important to examine, as their form alone can enhance (or detract from) a reader’s experience of a text.
           Let’s take a closer look. Your typical print (or digital, depending on which version you buy) copy of Alice is pretty standard: it’s divided up into chapters, including some antiquated, inky-looking sketches at the start of each one along with a few scattered throughout. As a reader, you’re given some images to work with, but the majority of the aesthetics are created using your imagination (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Compare that interaction to THIS:

            This clip looks, to me, to be the visual equivalent of Red Bull. Which might be exactly the point. What makes me a nervous wreck probably seems like a hell of a lot of fun to young kids who are growing up conditioned to sensory overload and instant gratification. In the Alice for the iPad app, you get the same style of illustration as in the book, only these are interactive and in full, backlit color. Users (again: users, not readers) are able to manipulate certain images via touchscreen, swiping from side to side to zoom and turn pages, as well as tilting (even shaking) the entire device to literally turn the story on its head. It’s a beautiful, compelling way to enjoy the story.
           But that’s just it: where is the story? One disgruntled user on Apple’s App Store notes that “it’s simply too abridged,” meaning that the full text is not included, only parts. The focus here seems to be on aesthetics as opposed to actual content.
           What does that mean for the text?
          The story in its entirety is not present, and what’s left of it is bogged down with heavily saturated images that disappear the second that battery dies. Sure, it’s cinematic, but if I wanted a cinematic experience I’d be looking at a movie on my iPad, not a reading app.
          This definitely has a place in the world of Alice, but I wouldn’t look to it as a starting point. Aside from missing out on some fantastic prose, young users (who have potentially never been exposed to the story before) are denied the opportunity to imagine anything for themselves. Instead, they’re presented with a fully realized interpretation of the (incomplete) work to which they can make no real contribution, like buying a coloring book pre-filled and all they can do is flip through it. It’s pretty passive for something so seemingly interactive and would be better served as supplementary to the actual text.
           Did I mention that I’m biased?
         But electronic isn’t always negative. Let me show you what else is out there. Check out Project Gutenberg's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Though described as an e-book on the site, Project Gutenberg has essentially created an online scroll, containing Carroll’s complete work, which is accessible to virtually anyone, anywhere, for free.
         Look around and you’ll see each chapter is ruled out into its own column, which, when clicked, will rush you to that exact point in the story. Zoom out again and you can see the text as a whole, from start to finish.
          As far as e-books go, this one takes the cake for Best Mapping Abilities. Usually, a primary issue readers have with digital work is the inability to see their place in the thing. With this site, you can jump from chapter to chapter and back out again to a bird’s eye view of everything you’ve read. If I had to pick a way to read a novel electronically, this would be it.
          Another thing to note is the pictures, most importantly that there are none. Does this take away from the charm and whimsy of Alice as we traditionally know her? Maybe. But what about online scrolls with moving chapters reads as traditional? Again, as much as we like or (blatantly) dislike a certain media, it’s still worth considering as a means, rather than a complete end.
         I think it’s crucial to understand the importance of keeping a story alive at all, in any format, so we can continue passing down such amazing works to future generations. I want this book to be a part of my future kids’ lives, be it through paper copy, eBook, or hologram.
           Though I’m sure you know which one I’d prefer.

    Update: A new version of the Alice for the iPad app has been released, which includes the full text. This comes at a cost, though . . . $8.99 to be exact (the abridged version is still available for free). Whether this is reasonable or not, I suppose, depends on the individual. And how much she likes paying close to ten dollars for a mess of pixels (my last bash of electronic media, I promise). Alas, you get the beauty of choice. Pick whichever road you want to take. Any one will get you there.
  • About the Author
    Lexi Turin currently majors in Creative Writing at Miami University of Ohio. Her hobbies include writing short bios, using profanity, and taking pictures of her food.

    Setting: The Opportunity You Don’t Know You’re Missing


    Photo credit: Bethann Powell |

    That dark and stormy night is kind of important, yet setting is seldomly and shallowly discussed. Underestimating its contribution robs your story. Ask yourself: are you missing opportunities to enrich your story through setting? ♦ 

    Think of your three most beloved stories. The three stories that have remained with you, that told you something worth hearing about what it’s like to be human and what it’s like, in the words of Scott Russell Sanders, “to speak memorably to strangers.” With little to no difficulty, I’m guessing you can give a brief description of their aspects—the names of the protagonists, the central conflicts or the protagonists’ main goals, and, yes, the settings of those stories. (Go ahead. Test yourself.) You can probably even describe the smaller settings that are home to your favorite moments.
           True, that these stories are in your top three means you likely remember more about them than you do about stories towards which you feel nothing. Even so, I’m willing to bet you've remembered the setting in large part because the writers remembered the setting too.

    Setting at the Macro Level

    At its broadest, setting is a geographical location, a physical landscape, and a period in time—say, a West Coast town nested in forested mountains in the year 2001. Even with these general details decided, many aspects of the story have been touched. Through three selections, we have already dictated:

    the culture of the time and place combined, and with it…
            its traditions
            its history
            its attitudes and values
            its aesthetic style, including architecture and personal styles
            its technology
            its media, including its music, entertainment, and art forms
    the way our characters speak
    what is pragmatically possible and what is not

    This macro-setting also affects the story mood and the writing style. A sprawling metropolis of shimmering skyscrapers simply doesn't feel the same as a sleepy town with one gas station and storefronts dating back to the 1800s. The seaside simply doesn't feel the same as the desert. The '80s in America simply don't feel the same as the '50s in America. A lush writing style may suit a lush environment but would be ill-suited for somewhere sleek.
           Consider the example of my all-time favorite novel: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It passes the challenge I presented earlier; I remember the macro-setting vividly. Fitzgerald presents us with the early Roaring Twenties, a time of economic boom that both blessed and cursed many Americans with exorbitant wealth. With that wealth came a dangerous sense of invincibility and an indulgence in frivolous spending and flashy mingling. Prohibition led to rampant criminal activity. Although Fitzgerald wrote Gatsby in 1925, when we look back on the story, its naïve glamour seems even more fragile, even more tragic, in light of the crash of ’29.
            This macro-setting is perfect for the conflicts that Fitzgerald explores. Gatsby is hopelessly in love with Daisy Buchanan, a now-married woman, based on memories of their romantic past. He idealizes her, failing to see her for the selfish and shallow woman she is. Daisy is as insipid as the ways that the people in this novel pass their time and fill their conversation, yet everyone refuses to blink the glitter from their eyes. She is a symbol of undying hope, the promise of eternal contentment and complete fulfillment for Gatsby. Such wealth, whether material or spiritual, surely resists death in the eyes of Gatsby and the greater culture. In my favorite line in the novel, he tells his friend Nick, “Can’t repeat the past? Why of course you can!” His aspirations—impossible. His beliefs—childish. But in 1922 America, disappointment and want have, seemingly, been slain.

    Setting at the Micro Level

    Setting is a region of the globe, a region of a nation, a region of a state or province or territory. Setting belongs to a century, a decade, and a year. We do not consciously live by such sweeping details, however, day in and day out. We occupy much smaller spaces, pass through much smaller units of time. The environments we most recognize as ours are immediate, ever changing, and—in many cases—self-selected and self-formed.
              What I’m referring to here is micro-setting.
            Let’s return to our West Coast town. It’s surrounded by forest and mountains, and the year is 2001. This town has its own subculture, its own manners of speech, its own logistics within the broader ones of the twenty-first century, the year 2001, the U.S., and the West Coast. Naturally, the micro-setting also leaves its mark on the story mood, as well as the writing style.
           But that isn't all. If we zoom in on our protagonist’s town, recognizing it as a smaller setting within the greater context, we discover more setting aspects to explore:

    his neighborhood
    his residence
    the rooms of his residence
    his vehicle
    his school or workplace
    his haunts

    These places are relatively stable and may very well be within our protagonist’s complete or partial control. Other aspects of this micro-setting are not so compliant:

    the climate, and the weather for a given day
    the season
    the month
    the day
    the time of day

    While the macro-setting is something to tuck away in the back of your mind as you write, the micro-setting demands far more attention. Why? The micro-setting is where scenes happen.
           Whenever you've started or finished a scene, think about the sensory details and setting descriptors you've included. For a terrifying scene, could you turn up the terror by setting the scene in the dead of night—in an otherwise empty house—a recently bought house that is still largely a stranger—a house that is alone in the woods? How about outside on a hot summer night, sweat already bursting from our protagonist’s pores even before his anxiety seeps in—and while he’s on a swing at the playground of his old elementary school no less? The innocence could contrast in a horrifying way with the unsettling element to present itself. Could your lonely protagonist, feeling isolated from others, live not in the suburbs, but in a farmhouse—in the countryside—hunched on a hill—the nearest neighbor five miles away? Or, maybe you could better show his pain by dropping him instead into a cramped apartment in the pulsating heart of a major city. The irony of being immersed in a crowd yet feeling alone could make his anguish even more acute.
           Fitzgerald chose his micro-settings with deliberation. Tom Buchanan doesn't confront Gatsby about his affair with Daisy on a cool spring morning. Nor does he confront Gatsby while lounging inside his expansive lakeside mansion. No, Fitzgerald gives these characters a sweltering summer afternoon. He moves these characters into the bustling city, then into a cramped hotel room with only one window to provide any ventilation—and this room is high over the city, no less! By dialing up the literal heat, Fitzgerald dials up the metaphorical heat. By minimizing the literal space, Fitzgerald minimizes the psychological space. The micro-setting feeds the mounting friction and aggression between Tom and Gatsby.
               It’s a gorgeous trick, and it isn't only his to call on.
              If a story of yours is working its hardest, it cannot be transplanted to a different setting—micro or macro—and retain its basic identity. That is the take-home message. Setting is not a static, painted backdrop behind your characters, but a dynamic climate they move within, both at the micro and the macro levels.
             Further your work’s purpose. Pack a harder punch. Take a step back from your story—in fact, from each of its scenes—and ask yourself, “Do I have a missed opportunity here?” Could you use setting with more awareness to amplify a given effect? To illuminate the conflict? To subvert it? To present it with ironic contrast?
              The answer is probably yes.

    Author’s note: Want to know more about making the most of setting? Check out Setting by the late Jack M. Bickham. This book transformed the way I think about setting. I recommend it to all writers.
  • 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.

    Wednesday, November 5, 2014

    A Cosmopolitan Dream Come True


    Fashion, fame, and a future: Sally Stearns tells us how she segued her love of Cosmopolitan into becoming a brand representative for the magazine and made her dreams her reality. ♦ 

    It’s hard to miss Cosmopolitan magazine when walking past a newsstand or bookstore. Its bright colors, bold words, and glamorous cover celebrities make it irresistible to the average college-aged female. It tempts you and draws you in. It hooks you.
          I've had an obsession with Cosmo for as long as I can remember. As soon as I was “old enough” to read it (according to my mother, who still doesn't think she is old enough to read it), nothing could stop me from poring over the glossy pages for hours. Literally hours. I actually timed myself once and found that it takes me approximately 3.5 hours to read each issue. By age sixteen, I had the monthly release date memorized, making a special trip to the bookstore every fourth of the month to make my exciting purchase. On top of my loyal newsstand purchases, I also bought myself a subscription that I haven’t failed to renew each year. Yes, I've been made fun of a time or two for the massive piles of magazines I refuse to throw away, which take up more space in my room than my actual bed, but I can’t seem to discard them. In fact, I think it would cause me actual physical pain to do so.
           You can imagine, then, how completely and utterly thrilled I was when I found out I was chosen to be a Cosmopolitan Brand Representative.
         Cosmopolitan is the number one magazine on college campuses, with more readers than Glamour, Lucky, and Vogue combined. It has sixty-one international editions around the world, and reaches 20 million print readers alone. Given the generally dismal state of print magazines these days, how does Cosmo manage to get these amazing numbers? How do they still reach such a wide audience in what some claim is a dying field? 
           The answer is simple: through engaging content and shrewd marketing.
         “FunFearlessFemale” is the mantra that Cosmopolitan has adopted, including it in both their logo and website. Clearly stating their intended audience, this mantra is catchy and inspiring, leaving no room for questions about who the magazine caters to. It encourages its readers to be fun, fearless, female, and overall confident.
           In the fall of 2013, Cosmopolitan teamed up with marketing agency ThirdChannel to create a brand representative program for college students. College girls at schools around the nation applied to become a representative, and 250 were chosen to represent the brand. No other magazine had tried a program like this, which sets it apart from all other publications in competition and greatly improves sales. I applied on behalf of Miami University of Ohio and was ecstatic when I received an email with the official Cosmopolitan header saying that that I was selected. The primary job of each representative is to sell print subscriptions, and there are prizes and awards, including the possibility of landing a summer internship at Cosmopolitan as well as a trip to NYC for an entire day with the editor-in-chief Joanna Coles. These prizes alone are certainly the greatest incentives a mega-fan like myself could ever ask for, and they were all I needed to throw all of myself into the program.
         I was given permission to use the Cosmopolitan logo and began by making posters like crazy, thinking of different ways to market to different groups of people. I then individually reached out to my friends and family, and was amazed at all of the feedback I received. I made a huge post on my sorority Facebook wall describing my position and asking for support, and just about every single on of the 182 members commented they would spread the word. I quickly found that through my position, college girls felt personally reached out to by Cosmopolitan, which translated into them wanting to subscribe to the print magazine. No other magazine has tried a program like this, which sets it apart from all other publications in competition and greatly improves sales.
          One of my favorite parts of the program came in the first few weeks, when we were given the assignment to write a question to the editor-in-chief, Joanna Coles. I thought deeply about my question, wanting it to be a good one in case it ever passed through her. Days after submitting it, we were surprised on our Facebook group wall to see that Joanna Coles herself had made a video specifically for all of us, just to answer our questions. I clicked on the video and was delighted about halfway through to hear her address and answer my question. She was talking to me.
          Perhaps my most effective marketing tactic was when I decided to personalize my position as much as I possible could. I took a photo from me in front of the Trevi Fountain in Rome and wrote the caption “Help me grant my wish by subscribing to Cosmopolitan” and posted it on Facebook. Minutes later, the photo had been shared almost twenty times and commented on by people I didn't even know, and it just grew from there.
        The program holds weekly contests to give the agents incentive to sell subscriptions. One week in particular, their top-selling agent won a plane ticket and two tickets to see Miley Cyrus in New York. This happened to be the same week of my Trevi Fountain photo, so I pulled ahead of the program with eleven sales in one week, which put me on the leader board for winning the tickets. I didn't win tickets in the end, but I was proud of myself for even being close and impressed at the reach my idea had.
         I also earned the distinction of being named “Cosmopolitan Woman of the Week,” where I was recognized for my efforts and sent an extra gift to thank me for my work. I was delighted to open my Facebook and see my picture underneath that title, accompanied by a blurb about my success in the program. At one point during the program, I was ranked as highly as #17 out of 250 agents. Being in the top twenty was my own personal goal, and I wish I could've frozen that moment when I found out I made it forever. Not only did I get a recommendation letter and resume write up from Cosmopolitan, but I had officially made it onto Cosmo's radar, one step closer to my dream of working there one day. I can certainly guarantee they haven’t seen the last of me.
         Cosmopolitan is one of the few print magazines still thriving in today’s troubled print media, and it's my belief that it always will. Women will never stop wanting a “bible” to flip through on a night in, at the beach, or on an airplane. Careers, sex, and relationships will always be hot topics, just as every woman will always deserve to feel like a fun, fearless female. That's how I felt I every day I represented them.
  • About the Author
    Sally Stearns is a fashion writer and editor who is currently Editor-in-Chief of UP Magazine, Miami University's campus fashion magazine. She enjoys bookstores, Taylor Swift, and can frequently be found devouring the latest issue of Vogue or Cosmopolitan. She would like to pursue a career in magazine journalism and hopes to move to New York City.

    Success Stories: Indie Booksellers in the Literary Marketplace


    In this post-Amazon era, independent bookstores are holding their own in the literary marketplace by emphasizing what they can offer readers that Amazon cannot. ♦

    In February of 2011 Borders, the international book and music giant, officially declared bankruptcy and began the process of liquidating the stock from hundreds of its stores around the United States. Literary soothsayers and e-book aficionados wondered if they were now seeing the apocalyptic fall of the brick and mortar bookstore. All eyes turned to Barnes and Noble, once associated with the corporate mainstream and the antithesis of indie booksellers everywhere, for any signs of potential longevity. It was almost inconceivable that the smaller, independent booksellers could succeed where commercial powerhouses had fallen. In the wake of the e-book revolution and Amazon’s rise to prominence in the literary marketplace, how could local bookstores survive?
            Approaching Montague Bookmill, located on the Sawmill River just north of Amherst, MA, you might notice the running waterfall, once a functional necessity for the early 19th century gristmill. However, the original structure, renovated in 1987 to house the bookstore, is only part of the Bookmill’s charm. Customers are invited to sit and relax while they read in the attached Lady Killigrew Café or peruse the painting studio of local artist Louise Minks. The books tend to be half-priced, sourced from recent publisher’s overstock, and are admittedly geared towards an academically inclined readership. This intellectual persona lends itself to their claim: “If we can’t find the book you’re looking for, we’ll find you a better one you didn’t know you wanted.” They don’t profess to have the same warehousing capabilities as Amazon, but instead rely on personal interaction and employee recommendations. Despite the forewarned collapse of the traditional bookstore and the supposedly dire fate of the industry, the Montague Bookmill is thriving. It seems they have created something Amazon, with their bargain prices, limitless stocking capabilities, and plans for delivery by way of high-speed drone, can’t yet supply. The Montague Bookmill is one of a kind, but it isn’t alone.
            In 1971 Tattered Cover, now one of the largest indie booksellers in the country, opened its doors in Cherry Creak, CO. Customers visiting any of their three separate locations will immediately notice the store’s strong emphasis on live author events, focused in particular on local Rocky Mountain writers, and direct community engagement through non-profits like Reach Out and Read Colorado. Village Books, another successful indie bookstore in Bellingham, WA, stands by their slogan, “Building Community, One Book at a Time.” They host a series of book clubs on topics ranging from motherhood to environmental conservation and even run a literary summer camp for kids. Joseph-Beth Booksellers in the Cincinnati, OH area operates under a similar business model, offering a rewards program that publically channels proceeds back into the local economy. Bookstores will likely always have some kind of support in the dedicated bibliophiles, reading countless titles of year, but they have learned to attract a more diverse range of customers as well. Community has become the operative word among indie booksellers trying to adapt to the changing marketplace. The brick and mortar success stories have all recognized the need to offer customers tangible benefits they lose by browsing through a digital catalog from the comfort of their own homes.
            Atomic Books in Baltimore, MD sells popular fiction and nonfiction titles, but they are more known for their selection of comics, zines, art books, and periodicals. They have carved out a niche for themselves as a colorful, wacky bookstore with their own distinct personality, apparent in both their online television show and related blog, finding ways to make themselves a digital presence beyond their physical location. In August 2013, owner Benn Ray transformed the attached record store into Eightbar, a cozy lounge that serves both wine and beer. Customers are invited to stay awhile, far longer than it might take to purchase a book or two, fostering that sense of local community. Again, they are certainly unique, but aren’t the only booksellers of their kind. Quimby's in Chicago, IL also self-advertises as quirky “Specialists in the Important Distribution & Sale of: Unusual Publications, Aberrant Periodicals, Saucy Comic Books, and Assorted Fancies.” Like Atomic Books, Quimby’s is known for their kind of special-interest merchandise, but they have also established themselves as more than just a bookseller. It’s a place for people to hang out. More and more successful indie bookstores aren’t characterizing themselves as simple booksellers, but are now drawing on a more diverse range of functions.
            There aren’t many businesses where customers will feel comfortable enough to kick off their shoes, lean back in any available chair, and relax, book in hand until the daily grind pulls them away, or they fall into a nap. This isn’t a site unseen in almost any local bookstore. Customers have increasingly taken ownership of their favorite indie booksellers, recognizing communal ties within places of seemingly basic commercial activity. In the post-Amazon era when e-book sales and digital purchases are increasingly becoming major components of the literary marketplace, can independent booksellers survive? Yes, because indie bookstores are more than just their economic function.
  • About the Author
    Shea Hendry can never seem to decide whether she would rather be in a museum or a library. Instead, she spends her days studying history while simultaneously finding new and avante garde methods of incorporating excessive stacks of books into dorm room interior design.