Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Note to Authors: Streaming Falls Flat


Why authors and artists should beware of the streaming business before following the music industry's footsteps.  ♦ 
If you’ve successfully managed a pulse for the past decade, you’ve seen an explosion of technology rattle our conceptions of media and how it’s purchased, stored, and consumed. The shift from physical media that you actually own (and hold in your hand) to digital media stored in gigabytes, and finally to streaming media, which the consumer neither owns nor stores but merely pays for access to, really began in 1999 with the emergence of the music file-sharing service Napster. According to co-founder Sean Parker, Napster was a “cultural revolution more than a legitimate company.” Due to its glaring illegitimacies in the face of U.S Copyright Law, the service was effectively shut down through the legal action of several major labels—but not before it had commanded well over sixty million registered users (Lamont). It was clear from Napster’s meteoric rise that Internet distribution of digitized content was the future, but as is so often the case, the business and legal sectors of society lagged behind the technological vigor of Parker’s invention.
     Ever since Napster hit the scene, the way we access music has fundamentally changed. Since 1999, we’ve shifted from the ownership model, where the consumer pays for and keeps a copy of the product, to a streaming model where the user pays for open access to a multitude of artists and albums at once. Spotify, a Stockholm-based music streaming service co-owned by Napster’s Sean Parker and Swedish entrepreneur Daniel Ek, has itself amassed over sixty million users since its formation back in ‘08, and Apple, once known for its iTunes store where users could purchase and download tracks for 99 cents apiece, has recently launched its own streaming service, Apple Music (Stella).
     But if the consumer has seemingly benefitted from such a model, the way artists and writers of music are compensated for their work certainly has not. “Wake Me Up” by Avicii has garnered over three hundred million streams on Spotify, making it the most-played song in service’s history (Blacc). However, each stream of the song must be apportioned out and reconciled with a royalty-payment scheme that hasn’t seen a single change since 2001. In an interview with WIRED Magazine, Aloe Blacc, co-writer and featured singer on “Wake Me Up,” highlights the disparity: “In return for co-writing and singing on a major hit song, I’ve earned less than $4,000 domestically from the largest digital music service [Spotify]. A system that allows digital streaming services to enjoy enormous profits while music creators struggle is imbalanced and broken.”
     Mr. Blacc is absolutely correct: we must take who subscription-based streaming services work for into consideration. We know from the music industry’s large-scale experiment with streaming that the originators of the content—the people without whom the system could not exist—are hit especially hard, while the distributors reap the rewards. By cutting profits at the source and artificially inflating them at the end of the line, we disincentivize the creation of the very material on which the entire system relies.
     Which is why, as we look to streaming media’s next big media frontier—books—we ought to consider its rise with skepticism.
     Increasingly, e-books are being readily made available through publishing’s own version of streaming services; NYC-based startups Oyster and Scribd compliment Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited as popular, flat-fee e-book subscription services, each boasting millions of titles (Technology). But while the music industry has already irreconcilably aligned itself with a streaming, subscription-based future, there is still plenty of time for the publishing industry to get cold feet. So, to any of the authors out there that are surely hanging on every word: take heed. Better to have cold feet than a hole burning through your pocket.
     As of July, 2015, Amazon stated that they would begin to pay Kindle Unlimited author’s royalties by the number of pages read instead of per books downloaded (Wayner). Moreover, this new plan excludes re-read pages from counting towards the total, and prevents authors from using that sly, high school trick of enlarging the font through a new standardized metric called the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC). Considering the vast majority of all Kindle Unlimited books already sell for less than $5.00, the payout-per-page Amazon affords writers is shockingly small—and that’s only for self-published authors. Many larger publishers’ books are also included in Kindle Unlimited, Oyster, and Scribd catalogues, but the deals inked have not been made available for public viewing.
     This is the same collusive, backstairs way of making deals that we have seen become rampant in the music industry in the past decade. The specific terms of the licensing deals Spotify and Apple Music made with the four majors are not known (all parties involved signed nondisclosure agreements), and resultantly the majors have ultimate discretion in divvying out profits to their artists (Seabrook). Maroon 5 could have accounted for 15% of all streaming revenue for their record label Universal in a given year, but there is no safeguard in place to prevent executives from paying them only for 10%. If streaming were to eclipse standard transactions of ownership in books as it has in the music, authors could likewise be shorted. As both the music and publishing industries have to some degree demonstrated, subscription streaming is an enemy of transparency in the way it is currently implemented, and only serves to strip profits away from the deserving creators of the art we consume.
     So, if publishing shouldn’t rush headlong into streaming as music has, what should it aspire for? This is a much more difficult question, as streaming could be an ideal solution if deals were brokered prioritizing the artist. History, however, has unfortunately shown us that deals prioritizing the artist are the exception, not the norm, and that corporations will always exploit artists for sake of a better profit, if given the chance. The success and health of any creative industry should not be defined by executives’ profit margins, but by the environment that it fosters for the creation of future art. The ill-used, defrauded artists that streaming creates are less likely to produce important work, and therefore less likely to advance culture in a positive direction. Publishing should justifiably be wary of large-scale streaming, because we’ve already seen its effects in an analogous industry. Transparency in business is what it ultimately boils down to—the book and music industries being the pot in which this transparency boils. It’s time both the music and publishing industries realize that only so many secret deals can be made, that the lid can only stay on the pot so long before a whole mess of hot vapor comes streaming out. And compared to boiling water, cold feet don’t seem like such a bad thing.
  • About the Author
    Zach Sharb is a creative writing major at Miami University. His interests include producing music, cooking scrambled eggs, and imagining hypothetical situations. He really is more grown up than he looks.

    Spooky Success: An Interview with Laurie Stolarz


    The prolific author of YA chills discusses her work and the many benefits (still) of traditional publishing.  ♦
    When it comes to reading Laurie Faria Stolarz’s books, it’s a truly scary world we're about to enter—one where a teenage girl uses witchcraft to solve crimes, or has the ability to sense feelings through touch, or where a group of young people find themselves living through their worst nightmares. Over the course of three series and more than fifteen books—including Deadly Little Secrets, Welcome to the Dark House, and her newest, Return to the Dark House—Stolarz has written about subjects not commonly found in any YA literature, finding inspiration everywhere from stories she overhears to current news articles, in the process building a devoted following of readers book-by-book.
        It’s also a much scarier publishing world than it was twelve years ago, when Stolarz’s first novel, Blue Is for Nightmare, was released to great acclaim; back then, e-books were nonexistent and bookstores for avid readers such as Borders and Barnes & Noble were thriving. Now, in an age in which the physical book is threatened by its electronic counterpart and online marketplace sellers such as Amazon forebode the end of all brick-and-mortar bookstores, publishers and authors are finding it more difficult to reach an audience and have had to adapt to the demands of the fast-paced, quickly-changing industry.
        While Stolarz admits that getting a book published through traditional—and especially Big Five—publishers “has always been difficult” regardless of the times, she continues to find enormous success publishing through big houses (both Welcome to the Dark House and Return to the Dark House are published by Hyperion) and says that there’s still a lot of value to emerging writers in considering traditional publishing.
        In this interview, Stolarz reflects on her own path to success, discusses the changes she’s seen in publishing during her twelve-year career, and offers advice and reassurances to those writers just starting out that hope is not lost.
    How has the publishing world changed since you published Blue is For Nightmares?
    [Back then] the sales team paid for all sorts of promos in bookstores, because people were shopping. My books were on face-outs, promo tables, on posters, and billboards at stores. There’s not nearly as much of that going on now, since there are fewer bookstores. Borders closed during this ten-year period. Indie bookstores are fewer and farther between. Barnes & Noble has a whole Nook section and gaming section taking up space where there used to be books. Publishers are less sure how to reach readers and much more cautious about where to throw marketing dollars.
    What about in terms of YA specifically? 
    I think the YA department has quadrupled since I first published. What was barely one or two shelves in Barnes & Noble is now aisles and aisles of young adult books. We saw this change about eight years ago. But now, with there being Nook sections and gaming sections, traditional book aisles and displays are scaling back a bit as bookstores have to accommodate with Nook and other games. I also think that young adults have so much more to choose from than they used to, and that the young adult genre has spread not to just teens but [now] adults reading them.
    How does this shift in audience make you feel as a writer? 
    I think that this is an exciting time for everyone. Readers are all trying out different books, and while things have changed since I first got published, I think this is an interesting time to see the change.
    Do you believe that self-publishing is good for aspiring writers? 
    I’m not against self-publishing, but I think people need to be really careful about what they’re “buying” into. Self-publishing carries a stigma in the mainstream publishing arena. Also, some self-publishing outsourcers take advantage of those who want to self-publish, promising more than they can deliver. It can get very costly, and then, in the end, is your book going to be in Barnes & Noble? Will it get beyond Amazon? There’s no way of knowing.
    Would you recommend traditional publishing or self-publishing for any aspiring writers? 
    I would try mainstream publishing first, unless I already had an audience. If I were a teacher, my audience could be my students. If I were a doctor writing a medical book, my audience could be my patients and colleagues. Or if I were a famous blogger and had thousands and thousands of followers, I might go self-publishing. But other than that, new writers will struggle financially trying to distribute their books. And, not only that, they will have a harder time getting their books read.
    How do you think would be the best way for aspiring authors to publish their novels through the traditional publishing houses? 
    Do your homework. Know to whom you’re sending your query letter, who that person’s clients are, what that person’s track record is, and what that person is looking for. Every letter should be personalized and reflect that you’ve done your research. But nonetheless, perseverance is the key. 
    Writers often say that an important element of their work is being able to work well with others, to find other writers who share the same passion. Do you have a group of people that you talk to, and if so, how did you go about finding them? 

    I found one while in grad school. We were all in the same sequence of classes together: writing the young adult novel. So we were all working on our novels over several semesters. When we finished classes, we knew we loved each other’s work and so we didn’t want to stop seeing one another. We would meet at one another’s houses or apartments to workshop our pages—there were four of us, and we all ended up selling our novels.
    What advice would you give to aspiring writers in terms of actual writing and publishing?

    My biggest piece of advice is to persevere. There are many talented writers who give up after five, ten, or even fifty rejection letters. Be open to learning and to getting better in your craft. Consider joining up with other writers. There’s nothing better than being in a group of like-minded writers who can help inspire and cheer you on, and who can provide constructive feedback that can help to strengthen your work.

       Often, writers comment that writing can get lonely, and given the big changes the literary world is going through, it seems like this might be the case now more than ever. But, as Stolarz reminds us, a writer is never alone—there are many others in the same boat, weathering those big waves of change together. And doesn't this encourage us, as aspiring authors, even more?
         I think it does.
         So let's get writing.
  • About the Author
    Mayu Nakano is currently a junior majoring in Creative Writing and Japanese at Miami University. She is both an avid reader and writer of young adult fiction. Her interests also include culture and books in English translation.

    Villains Make the Best Heroes


    Photo credit: Axxaxxin |

    More complex, introspective, and satisfying to watch, the "bad guy" is about to become your new favorite character.  ♦
    The dichotomy of hero versus villain exists in some way or form in nearly every book, every comic, every movie, every television show. We’ve been socialized to root for the “good guy” and to hope for the defeat of the “bad guy.” We’ve been socialized to stereotype heroes as simply “good” and villains as simply “bad.” Why does a hero do the right thing? Because it's the right thing to do, and that's what they're supposed to do. But happens when these lines of “good” and “bad” become blurred and convoluted? Why would a hero do the wrong thing? That's the real question. Why would a hero kill thousands of innocent people, steal millions of dollars, or fight for an evil superpower? That's the real question. Making a good hero who does the right thing is easy. Explaining why someone fights against evil is simple. Why a hero would commit an evil act is much more complex difficult to explain.
       So perhaps “hero” isn't quite the correct word. In many cases, the villain is still the hero of the story in their own eyes, but there are plenty of stories where the villain is viewed as a hero by other characters. It's tiring to watch the same stories unfold time and time again, where the hero fights the big bad villain and everyone lives happily ever after. Stories are more compelling when the character that we, the audience, are supposed to root for is not objectively the “good guy” of the story. Oftentimes, villains make much better heroes than archetypal heroes, because villains have to justify themselves much more than your typical protagonist. George R.R. Martin, author of the Song of Ice and Fire series (that's Game of Thrones for you TV people) said, “Nobody is a villain in their own story.” Yet, so often we see villains as nothing more than evil caricatures. Great villains always view themselves as truly doing what is right, if not what is good.
       It seems that just about every villain fits into at least one of four categories: Evil, Justified, Fallen, or Hero. There is overlap between the groups, and the best of villains will often fit into more than one category. The things that put a villain in each group are their main motivations and ideals.

    The Evil Villain
    Examples: Scarface, Four Lions, Pain and Gain
    Motivation: Power, money, because they want to

       Evil villains are the hardest characters for authors to write in such a way that audiences will relate to or make a connection with them. At best, the audience can enjoy these villains getting punished at the end, or marvel at the inhumanity they've achieved. The Evil villain knows what they're doing isn't good, but they don't care about what's right or what's wrong. They care about what they want and try to get it by any means necessary. Evil villains are often, but not always, written as either insane or stupid, giving some sort of explanation as to their behavior.
       What really makes the Evil villain interesting is seeing how they act against a world in such opposition to them. An Evil villain often inspires loyal followers that ultimately mean little or nothing to them. The audience gets to watch these deplorable actions and the rise (and often fall) of an individual who truly believes that “nice guys finish last.” If the villain succeeds, the audience is left with mixed emotions of happiness that the archetypal “hero” won as well as the frustration that the villain got away with it. If the villain falls, the audience is again met with the mixed emotions, though this time with happiness that good prevailed and the sadness that their villain was defeated.
       Take a look at Scarface. Tony Montana starts at the bottom, and works his way to the top of the coke empire. He lets friends die, betrays those who have helped him, and kills countless people. Yet, after everything he does, the audience still watches him with fascinated adoration. People don't think of Tony as the evil, ruthless villain he was, but as the underdog hero they saw him as.

    The Justified Villain
    Examples: Watchmen, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones
    Motivation: To better the world, to save themselves or a loved one

       The Justified villain is the villain who would most likely argue against their status as a villain. Whether they're trying to save the world, someone they love, or just themselves, the Justified villain isn't actually evil, it's just that everyone else doesn't understand what needs to be done, or doesn't have the ability to do it. A justified villain has good intentions, but they will probably have to hurt a lot of people on the way.
       This type of villain is probably the easiest type of villain with whom the audience can identify. These villains usually do not take pride in their actions or enjoy them; instead, the Justified villain almost always sees their crimes as simply “what has to be done.” Justified villains can be entirely self-obsessed or completely the opposite, but they would never identify themselves as a villain.
       Breaking Bad's Walter White would often argue that he is a genuinely good man that just wants the best for his family. In the process of providing for them, he, much like Tony Montana, betrays those who help him, kills (either directly or indirectly) many people, and ruins the lives of others. The entire time Walt does this, he professes over and over about taking care of and loving his family. In his mind, Walt is doing the best thing possible in his situation. He may be hurting others, but the goal is worth the cost.

    The Fallen Villain
    Examples: X-Men: First Class, Count of Monte Cristo, Star Wars (the prequels)
    Motivation: Revenge, recognition, safety

       If villains make the best heroes, then one could make the argument that heroes make the best villains. Other people are the real villains, the money was just too good—these are the trademarks of the Fallen villain. The Fallen villain started out on the good path: fighting against the forces of evil, trying to help those weaker than they, but the universe didn't quite agree with their ideals. Despite their good actions, the Fallen villain didn't get the recognition they deserved, or the world still fears and persecutes them. Eventually, the hero had enough and became a villain.
       No one understands evil better than someone who has fought it. This villain understands their actions and that the outcome is less than good. They're not trying to do what is best for the greater good; they're trying to do what is best for them. The difference between the Fallen villain and the Justified villain is that the Justified villain believes that their actions will ultimately result in good, as opposed to the Fallen villain, who has come to recognize that they are the villain in the minds of the many. Audiences can see the full progression from the character's status as hero to their change of heart. They understand the villain's actions, even if they don't agree with them. This makes the Fallen villain a popular character among audiences.
       Magneto is, by far, the best example of a fallen villain. In X-men: First Class Magneto starts the film as a child during the Nazi occupation of Poland, where he witnesses the fullest persecution of people possible. At first, Magneto buys into Xavier's idea that mutants and humans can live in peace; however, after seeing the fear that mutants create in mankind and the drastic measures they'll take to destroy mutants, he turns away from peaceful coexistence. Fearing a mass genocide like he witness during his childhood, Magneto turns against mankind and becomes a villain.

    The Hero
    Examples: I Am Legend, Fight Club, Shutter Island
    Motivation: Safety, coercion, ignorance

       The Hero is the most unique type of villain. Really, the Hero is not the villain at all; they're a “good-guy” who was forced or tricked into committing evil. Perhaps the real villain is hiding behind the curtains, holding a loved one hostage, or the Hero doesn't know enough about the situation. Somehow, a person who would normally be trying to save the day (or maybe just try to go about their day) ended up as a villain. Heroes search for a way out of their situation if they can, or are distraught when they learn of their villain status.
       The best thing about watching a Hero-type villain is that they see no redemption or good in their actions. Heroes struggle within themselves to try and complete their tasks while still doing as little evil as possible. They are reluctant to do any more than they absolutely have to, and even the bare minimum of evil eats away at their soul. The audience gets to watch the unknowing villain realize what they are and what they've done. The character doesn't wish to be a villain is what makes them so interesting.
       In I Am Legend, human society collapses after a virus transforms the world's population into marauding vampire-like monsters. They come out at night and attack Dr. Robert Neville, who is trapped in New York City with a horde of the infected. He struggles to stay alive, and captures some of the monsters. He experiments on them in an attempt to find a cure for the virus. What Dr. Neville is unaware of is that the creatures have modeled their own tribes and society after humanity. Dr. Neville has been their boogeyman, coming out in the daylight and stealing their people. Though he didn't know it, the hero, who struggled to survive every day, was really the villain of the story.

       Audiences like complexity. Audiences like abnormal characters. Villains inherently need complexity to explain their actions, which rarely seem logical from an outside perspective. Their actions and motivations are unique and well-reasoned, even if only to them. Like a fine wine, a well-written villain is something to truly be savored and appreciated. Villains' successes send us on wild rides of jubilation and worry, and their defeats are just as intense. A good villain is better than a “good-guy” any day.
  • About the Author
    Joy Snow is a senior creative writing student at Miami University. She enjoys playing in Magic: The Gathering tournaments and dressing up in costumes and going to anime conventions with all her nerd friends. She lives with a cardboard cutout of Ronald Reagan, who she claims is the best roommate she's ever had.

    More Than Choose Your Own Adventure


    From humble beginnings, video games have evolved into an immersive, participatory new form of storytelling.  ♦ 
    The storytelling potential of video games has been too often overlooked throughout the medium’s short history, both by those who see games as simply an entertainment and even by game designers themselves. What’s more, it’s seemingly been this way from the start, with the earliest games focused on an interactive experience but not necessarily on constructing story. The Legend of Zelda, for instance, depicted an exploration through an unmapped and uncharted world, though the pixels that the player moved around the screen (and the world) weren’t named Link, weren't presented as a real character, until several games later. Instead it was you, as a player, saving Hyrule and rescuing a princess, or speeding through the Mushroom Kingdom in Super Mario Bros (though once again to rescue a princess). By placing little emphasis on the in-game narrative, the story became about you as a participant rather than about Mario or Link being propelled through a narrative.

    The Legend of Zelda (1986), dungeon one. Player finds the Triforce.

       But stories in video games have evolved drastically from the days of the original The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros, and games have since become a legitimate storytelling medium in ways no one could have anticipated. There are beautiful cinematic thrill rides, with alien planets and fantastical cathedrals creating entire worlds in brilliant HD. And then there are also compelling emotional journeys using nothing but poorly drawn pixel animations, like the 2015 indie game Undertale. Of course novels and films also create full worlds that emotionally invest and affect the audience, but it’s the player’s participation in the story that sets video games apart from all other storytelling mediums. Even with an overabundance of cut scenes and cinematic camera views, there is no game without the player moving the story and the characters forward. While books and movies sometimes try to put a ‘you’ into their stories, video games rely on there being this outside ‘you.’ All video games are told in a second person point of view. In fact, video games are perhaps the first form of media to finally get the second-person point of view right, the only real medium where ‘you’ are able to participate. The player singlehandedly stops a war, or survives the apocalypse, or helps a child save his teddy bear, all experiences that only someone playing a video game can both observe and help shape.

       Despite its limited graphics, Undertale (2015) creates an incredibly complex,
    fun, and emotional journey full of zany, unforgettable characters.

       In recent years, games have been trying to hone that ‘you’ character as best they can, integrating it into their stories more and more directly. Of course, this started off with the silent protagonists—characters with no dialogue like the Links and the Marios. Then this began changing with the development of character customization. While video game avatars already go a long way to bridging the gap between the player and the world, with character customization, a player can place their very own look-a-like into the shoes of the Dragon Born or the Hunter or the Pokémon Trainer. These silent avatars allow players to be the story. Maybe they don’t influence the story themselves, but they get to put themselves in a fantastical setting and fight their way through. This is one storytelling element exclusive to video games. No matter how much the audience is immersed in the story of a movie or a novel, they are not placed into the story itself, tasked with its completion. The audience can’t star in a movie or book as themselves.

    Skyrim (2011) character creator.

    Customization in Pokémon X and Y (2013).

       Other games take a much different approach. Whether or not the player influences what their in-game avatar looks like, it’s the player who decides the story. First, of course, were the morality choices. Do you become good or evil? Do you become a hero or a villain? Kill or use stealth? But these black and white decisions hardly affected the game drastically. So then video games began developing around the idea of choice. In Until Dawn, a 2015 horror game centered on the player’s choices, do you save Mike, or let him die so that Sam can last the night? When solving the mysteries of Arcadia Bay in the 2015 indie game Life is Strange, do you accuse Nathan of murder when you know you’ll be endangered because of it? In these games, you are tasked with deciding who survives to the final scene. The shape of the story is in the hands of the player. Of course, this kind of story is very hard to accomplish in any meaningful way, because if every choice changes every outcome, then every change has to be accounted for. But the ability to fundamentally change the story laid out before you would be impossible in anything other than a choose-your-own-adventure book. Watching two people play through any of these games, however, you can see that any possible combination of choices leads to all sorts of outcomes.

    All the choices in Life is Strange, Episode One: Chrysalis (2015).

    Do you risk Ashley’s life to find Jess in Until Dawn (2015)?

       And then there are games that acknowledge the player outside of the game.

    The Batter introducing himself to the Judge in the French indie game OFF (2008).

    Undertale remembers what you’ve done, even when you don’t save . . .

       Breaking the fourth wall in a video game addresses the player directly, acknowledging the fact that a party outside of the game is directly moving the story along. The players are characters in their own right, not just the pixels moving onscreen. Not only does this add a whole new element of immersion into a game’s story, but viewing the game from this Meta angle also allows for the characters themselves to work around storytelling conventions that would be impossible otherwise.
       How many novels have had the protagonist betray you? This seems almost impossible.
       How many video games have had the protagonist betray you? There are actually quite a few.

    Judge’s ending in OFF.

       Although many players have always understood the appeal to this sort of storytelling, even those who have never touched a game are beginning to understand just how unique the video game medium is. Movies and books rely on an audience to convey their stories to, but video games need this audience to even make it to the end of the narrative. It relies on someone caring enough to make it to the end. Even games that seemingly don’t allow the sort of participation shown in games like Until Dawn or Skyrim hold their own. Whether a game is based heavily on a player-driven story or hardly acknowledges the player, video games still keep players enthralled in their stories. Because it’s not just the story, it’s the game. It’s the player’s struggle to overcome adversity, solve the puzzles, beat the bosses. This is at the heart of all video games that aim to tell a good story. Put the story in the hands of the person playing it, and the story will fall into place.
  • About the Author
    Jessica Port is a third year student at Miami University, studying both Creative Writing and Literature. She loves reading, writing, and playing endless amounts of video games in her spare time. She has had two short works previously published in school magazines, with plenty more to come.

    Monday, November 16, 2015

    Reading of a series of comic books - Death Note by Tsugumi Ohba


    “People love to see death. It reminds them that however mean, however low, however horrible their lives become… at least they have one.” --Joe Abercrombie, Before They Are Hanged  ♦  
    Death Note is a comic book series that was originally published in 2003 by Tsugumi Ohba and adapted to film in 2006. When I was a teenager, this movie version was quite popular among those my age. Even though I didn’t know the story well, I knew that the protagonist could kill anyone whose face he knew by writing that person’s name. It was a common expression among my friends to say, “I will write your name on Death Note” just for fun. This was the reason that I rented Death Note from the book rental shop. I first opened the book with a simple curiosity about the story, but as I delved deeper into the text, I found Death Note to be more thought-provoking and meaningful than I’d expected.
         The story begins as Light Yagami is disappointed with the corrupted social justice system. As day Light further observes the depraved society, he gets a notebook called Death Note from a shinigami (Grim Reaper in Japanese) named Ryuk. No normal notebook, Death Note gives its user the power to kill someone by writing that person’s name in the notebook. After testing the rules of the book, Light decides to clean the corrupted world as a god named Kira. This alter ego allows Light to remain anonymous. The government regards Kira as a criminal who destroys the social order by murdering people. To capture Kira, a genius detective named L cooperates with the International Police Organization. Soon, with his outstanding instinct, L suspects that Light is Kira. However, to hide his secret identity, Light helps L to track down Kira. From this point, the story progresses with fights between Kira and the police, as well as hidden fights between Light and those who might expose Kira’s identity.
         Light is an impressive character because he is such a contradictory character. He has a perfect god-like aspect with his control over death, yet, in some ways, he is a typical human. As Kira, Light has great power in deciding whether criminals live or die. However, Light can do little without Death Note because he is only a smart human who borrows supernatural power from the note. Light is again contradictory in that he always acts dispassionately when dealing with other people’s lives, but later, shows very human behavior in his personal life.
         One reason that I still remember this series of comic books is that, within the narrative, it is hard to define who is a hero and who is a villain. Generally, a hero tries to save the world and wants to uphold justice. On the contrary, a villain is someone likely to kill innocent people and attempt to destroy the existing world. Based on these descriptions, Light could be classified as a hero in that he is a passionate person who wants to save the corrupted world by ensuring that social justice is done. However, Light, in the role of Kira, originally says he only kills wicked people, but later expands his meaning of wicked people to people against him. In this aspect, he could be seen as a villain. Supernatural power doesn’t give one the authority to freely take lives away. In doing this he also destroys the existing social order. Like his name: Light (月means light), Yagami (夜神 means a god of night), he has both aspects. With this, one might consider whether those trying to capture Kira should be considered heroes or not. This is a difficult consideration because the world these people want to save is already corrupted. However, it is important to say that they are not definite villains either because they try to stop Kira from taking lives away unnecessarily. Overall the ambiguity of justice and evil in Death Note makes me rethink the beliefs that I consider to be right.
         Because Death Note is a comic book, it can be enjoyable to read for entertainment without deep thought about death and justice. The story includes fantastical elements such as shinigami and supernatural powers that are able to catch a reader’s attention. There are also many different characters to entertain readers. For example, the shinigamis are extremely grotesque in appearance, recalling skeletons or corpses. This depiction makes these figures very believable in the grim reaper-like role they play. Also, L and Near, who are geniuses chasing Kira, have their own unique habits--L eats awfully sweet things, and Near always plays with toys. The characters’ unique appearances and characteristics add to the enjoyment of reading this series.
         As a reader, I usually pick up comic books for entertainment. However, Death Note allows me not only to enjoy the comic books and be entertained, but also to rethink death and the meaning of true justice. Death, the main subject of the storyline, is a sensitive subject in the real world. From the characters’ reactions as they deal with death, I have found that there is no right or wrong definition of justice. Justice always carries ambiguity because there is more than one side to see it from. Even today, I like to re-read Death Note not only for fun, but also for thinking about the meaning of true justice.
  • About the Author
    Boyoung Choi is currently a Creative Writing major and a Chinese minor at Miami University. She likes animals, coffee, fun stories and sleeping all day.

    Tuesday, November 10, 2015

    YouTube Wins the Literary Lottery


    YouTube vloggers are increasingly what publishers want . . . even if they don't write their own books. ♦
    If you’ve ever scrolled through YouTube looking for more than that funny cat video you saw on Buzzfeed, then you’re probably familiar with any number of star YouTube content creators working in virtually any category or genre you could think of, from daily vloggers to beauty gurus, comedians, collectors and enthusiasts, amateur political pundits, fashionistas, and, now, authors. Major publishing companies, anxious to work with personalities who already have mega-platforms and large built-in audiences, are dishing out big book deals to any YouTuber with a subscriber count large enough to occupy a small country. One such YouTuber is Zoe Sugg, more commonly known by her fans on YouTube as Zoella. She’s your average English 25-year old; she’s got a dog, a boyfriend, and a whopping 9 million subscribers who tune in weekly for her vlogs that cover fashion, beauty, and, more recently, her literary career. In June of 2014, Sugg signed a deal with Penguin to write two novels, the first of which, Girl Online, was billed as “a modern-day Notting Hill for teens.” But the novel, which saw print in November 2014, soon became embroiled in scandal when it was revealed that it was actually ghost-written, not authored by Sugg, raising serious questions about big publishing’s rush to capitalize on YouTube stars’ celebrity, whether or not they have anything to say. So when and how did the idea of YouTube-stars-as-authors propel itself into the next pop culture phenomenon? Why are publishing companies backing YouTubers with no writing experience for big book deals, and what does this media alliance mean for the publishing industry?
         The idea of a YouTube author isn’t as new as one might think. Probably the most famous example of a successful crossover star is author/YouTuber John Green, of VlogBrothers and The Fault in Our Stars. Green wrote his first book, Looking for Alaska, two years before he and his brother entered the YouTube scene in 2007, and for the most part his readership was developed the old fashioned way: through agents and publicity and through writing a good book, which is to say, it had everything to do with the storytelling and very little to with the author or cashing in on his celebrity. Looking for Alaska was well-received, but it did as well as any first time author could expect; no records were broken, but some money was made. Green continued to write, publishing eleven pieces (five short stories and six novels) before his channel hit the millionth subscriber mark in 2013. And of course it’s true that The Fault in Our Stars was an enormous hit. But if anything, Green’s career as a writer perhaps helped propel his career as a YouTuber, not the other way around.
         Then again, Green also joined YouTube nine years ago, when it was still a relatively small community of people making videos for their friends, not the major media corporation it is today, stacked with employees quickly compiling brands around their channels. YouTube’s most successful stars are now turning out stationary lines, makeup brands, and T.V. shows, and faithful followers tune in from all over the world to watch these people live their lives as if it’s perfectly natural to talk to a camera while you’re at dinner with friends, purchasing a “haul” from a store, or walking your dog. These everyday stars, so it seems to their viewers, are doing more than showing us their lives; they’re bringing us into them. We believe that we are a part of their worlds. And how could we not, when every time we click on a link we’re greeted a warm smile and, “Hello, friends!”? The YouTube phenomenon has hit so big, at least in part, because the personalities that thrive in the medium seem closer to us, more accessible, than stars from traditional media. And the loyalty that engenders is one that’s made these stars into virtual one-person brands…brands which might then carry over from the very small screen to, say, your local bookstore.
         Which brings us back to Zoe Sugg.

         It seems unlikely many authors, agents, or publishers would consider breaking the news of a new book by giving a fairly detailed summary and backstory on a YouTube channel. If they did, they certainly wouldn’t place it alongside a completely unrelated vlog of what could be any other day in anyone’s life. But then, many authors don’t have a personal brand behind them like Sugg does, who reached over 1.6 million people in this video announcement for Girl Online. Sugg’s first published work sold more than 78,000 copies in its debut week. It was the fastest selling book of the year and knocked J.K Rowling off the pedestal for most copies sold in its first week.
         But just as quickly as it rose to the top, Sugg’s book came under fire for being a ghost-written story that was sold to the public as the YouTuber’s own creation.
        "To be factually accurate, you would need to say Zoe Sugg did not write the book Girl Online on her own," a Penguin spokesperson told the Sunday Times. The revelation divided Sugg’s fans and split the literary community surrounding Girl Online. It seems that the reading public was willing to support the idea of a YouTuber-author hybrid when it was “authentic,” but once the offline reality (and reputation) of Girl Online was shattered, readers asked an important question: why would Penguin offer Sugg a deal when she never was, and never planned to be, a writer?
         To put it simply, because it was going to sell. Big time. These YouTubers have worked hard to create and promote a brand, a brand that is summed up in one photo, one name, one URL. Their presence on a paperback is enough to take the piece to the top of the charts. So here we might pose yet another question: how long have we valued the corporation over the (literary) community?
         The answer is always.
        Many of Sugg’s subscribers feel close to her because she puts so much of her life online. There’s a personal connection there, one that encourages subscribers to support her by purchasing her latest creation. The upside of this is that YouTuber-authors like Sugg are driving young readers back into brick-and-mortar bookstores. If they’re buying a book from their favorite online star, you bet they’re going to want all their friends to know it, and nothing is quite so effective as a glossy, iconic, analog hardback. These books aren’t just literary endeavors, they’re accessories. Our beloved literary marketplace can and will turn down passionate submission after passionate submission if it means that they can support what they know will sell.
         Perhaps one reason the literary community is in an uproar over the Zoe Sugg debacle, and perhaps over the idea of YouTube authors in general, is because, for the first time, it’s clear that publishing is distinguishing the novelist from the novel. We’ve always been walking the line between community and corporation. Publishing companies are out to give the people what they want because it’ll make them, and their writers, successful. And in those terms, looking at the potential for cold hard sales, YouTube is a literary goldmine. Its content is rapidly expanding to encompass every aspect of our culture. Anyone with a WiFi signal can get the videos, and now loyal subscribers can flood bookstores like they flood the comment sections. Even a Youtube book deemed a flop would be a success to any regular writer.
         Aspiring writers, put down your computers, pick up your camera, and get to work collecting those subscribers, because in terms of what it means to win the literary lottery, YouTube just changed the game.
  • About the Author
    Emily Kaminski is a fan of books, bacon, and boys with accents. She spends most of her time trying to convince Miami University to give her degrees in both Creative Writing and English Literature. You can usually find her at King Library or any ice cream establishment, avoiding her responsibilities and watching Netflix.