Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Failures of Your Favorite Authors


If you're filled with self-doubt and have faced with crushing defeats in your writing, take heart: it happens to the best of us.  ♦ 
As writers, we can all relate to failure. Failure is a fact of life, no matter what field you find yourself in; it just so happens us writers enjoy the throes of failure more often than others. We toil and pour our soul into crafting and refining our art for months, even years, to often no avail. But, this is no reason to fret. Whether it be personal or professional, failure also found its way into the lives of some of the most successful and influential writers in history. Yet they prevailed. So, let us not be discouraged in what has been; rather, let us focus on what could be in exploring some of the failures of your favorite authors.

I’ll begin by allowing you to guess the first writer: a beloved American icon who, after World War I, became deeply depressed and began writing in the league of the “Lost Generation” in bohemian Paris. A Nobel Prize found itself in his trophy case in 1954, only for the author to suffer two plane crashes the same year. Seven years later, after a long bout of paranoia and as many as fifteen sessions of electroshock therapy, he was found dead with his favorite shotgun in hand. He left an estate in Key West filled with his famous polydactyl cats.

Ernest Hemingway had his lumps handed to him his entire life, which was marked by tragedy and unluck. An Austrian mortar shell nearly killed him during his time as a Red Cross paramedic in World War I. Regarding the incident, he claims he survived the explosion with “237 bits of shrapnel, an aluminum kneecap, and two Italian decorations.”

His largest writing failure was during a meeting in Switzerland. His wife was packing to visit him and, wanting to surprise him, brought all of his writing projects. That would normally be a sweet gesture, but her faux pas was bringing everything. Absolutely everything. She brought all the carbons, every paper copy, literally his whole body of work. And of course, that suitcase got lost. This was in 1923, and Hemingway didn’t want to write for years after. Finally, in an attempt to compose a new body of work, he wrote quickly and in a “lean” fashion, providing him with his famous, skeletal style. That crushing loss of his work would eventually land him the Nobel Prize for Literature thirty years later.

Dr. Seuss almost didn’t make it into the mainstream due to his struggles, either. You probably haven’t heard of And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street, as it’s not nearly a Green Eggs and Ham. He got the idea while stuck on a boat while returning from Europe—the boat’s engine was apparently loud and repetitive lending him a rhythm for his writing. Dr. Seuss went to twenty-seven different publishers and twenty-seven publishers turned his book down. He lost hope until one day he was walking home in New York City and bumped into a friend from Dartmouth who then worked for a publishing house that specialized in children’s books. That friend got him published and the book became critically acclaimed, inspiring him to write as a career.

Many if not most famed authors have been turned down numerous times by publishers. For example, Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected by thirty publishers. When it was finally accepted by Doubleday, King received the news by telegram, since they'd had their home phone cut off in order to save money. The telegram read: “CONGRATULATIONS. CARRIE OFFICIALLY A DOUBLEDAY BOOK. IS $2500 ADVANCE OKAY? THE FUTURE LIES AHEAD.”

Likewise, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected twelve times. Rowling finally caught a break when an editor at Bloomsbury Publishing read it to her eight-year-old daughter, who loved it. Today there are more than 500 million Harry Potter books in print worldwide, and Rowling's share of the books alone has been estimated at over a billion dollars.

One of Rowling’s inspirations, J. R. R. Tolkien, struggled with self-doubt about The Lord of the Rings. The world was in the throes of World War II as Tolkien, then a famed professor at Oxford University, worked on the book. Bombings occurred daily and Tolkien worried about the future of his novel. He had written an entire language and history for his setting and began to face doubts about if his novel would be read. He also worried about the complexity of his story: would he be able to finish the novel with no holes? Would the story’s world and narrative be appreciated? We all face doubts like these, especially when we’ve invested years, even decades, of our lives to projects. Yet he persevered and sold one of the most loved and well-known novels in history.

We even have records of Charles Darwin stressing about the legitimacy of his work. In an 1861 letter to his friend Charles Lyell, Darwin summed up his mood this way: “I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything.” Further, he was considered merely average in school and dropped out to become a parson. He would later publish On the Origin of Species and become one of the most influential intellectuals of all time, though upon publication the New York Times reviewed his text unfavorably, saying, “Shall we frankly declare that, after the most deliberate consideration of Mr. Darwin’s arguments, we remain unconvinced?”

Mary Shelley’s first novel Frankenstein was published in 1818 to public acclaim, though mixed reviews. But following Frankenstein, Shelley would write six more novels, none of them matching the first's success. After her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley's death in 1822, her writing had to support her and their young son, which put even more stress on her work. While writing one of her more forgotten novels, The Last Man, Shelley wrote in her journal, “Amidst all the depressing circumstances that weigh on me, none sinks deeper than the failure of my intellectual powers; nothing I write pleases me.”

Nearly dying countless times, losing your entire body of work, self-doubt, mental illness, rejection from publishers. None of these prevented some of the greatest works of all time from being written. What all of these artists had in common was perseverance. They were determined in themselves and wrote even when it seemed hopeless. Take what you will from any of this; whether you think exceptional people get exceptions or not, there is an undeniable trend that you cannot succeed without determination.

  • About the Author
    Antonio Vazquez Lim is a Political Science and Philosophy double major enrolled at Miami University as a first-year student and is interested in pursuing a JD/Ph.D. after undergrad. He’s a proud West Virginian who enjoys creative and philosophical writing, powerlifting, and caring for his tortoises in his spare time.

    The Evolving Narrative of LARP


    Love reading stories that transport you to a different world? LARP provides you with an interactive experience where you can create and star in your own fictional narrative.  ♦ 
    "Bam-Bam!” a burly voice rang through the woods. It was odd how my body responded as though it was my real name. I turned to find a tall man stomping in my direction. I could tell by the stickman painted on his face that he was a part of my tribe. Although I didn’t know who he was, he sure knew me.

    By participating in live action role play, or LARP, players can enter into another world’s narrative by assuming the role of a character that could exist there. The players and the game masters work together to create a story within their respective games. Being very similar to improv, the stories that are created for and through these games tend to evolve greatly over time, sometimes even during gameplay.

    In this case, it was my first large-scale game, with roughly fifty players present. I went to this game with a relatively new friend in the middle of winter and was going to be there all weekend. The game I chose to play was Dystopia Rising, a full-immersion, post-apocalyptic game in which I would be in character for almost the entire time I was there. (Of course, the game stopped for a few hours for sleep, and gameplay was off limits in the restrooms.)

    Despite having done online role-play for years, I was completely out of my comfort zone. The one advantage I had was that my character was supposed to be antisocial, which made it a lot easier for me to role-play through my own anxieties. In reality, most of it was a lot easier than I’d led myself to believe it would be. Although I spent the entire weekend surrounded by mostly strangers, I never once felt like I didn’t belong. Everyone welcomed me with open arms and helped me learn the ropes. I thought I wouldn’t enjoy myself if I didn’t have a few close friends play with me, but I had a blast walking through the snow by myself and meeting new people.

    The most enjoyable part of the game was being an NPC, or a non-player character. In Dystopia Rising, each player has to work a shift as an NPC before “graduating” to a full character with a personal plot of one’s own. Sometimes being an NPC involves some level of role-play within another player’s personal plot. Sometimes it would merely be taking on combat roles, a facet of LARP that isn’t a part of every game. Doing the NPC shift, I saw more of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into these larger games, including a glimpse into the world of the game’s writers.

    Because there are a multitude of different types of games, Game Masters (the people crafting these stories, also known as storytellers) have to come up with various ways to tackle their narratives. Some will begin planning their next story immediately after completing a game while others will roll with the punches and think on their feet during gameplay, or some combination of the two styles. No matter the direction they take when creating their stories, storytellers can experience a change in plans as early as the first minute into a LARP game.

    Maria Cambone, who has been LARPing for 10 years and writing for LARPs periodically throughout, explains that your plans for a game narrative can easily be completely derailed. For example, if you plan a game for fifty people and, upon getting to the game, realize that only half that number shows up—and most of them are from out of town—you would recognize the narrative needs you had originally anticipated are now different. Occasionally, the storyteller may want to talk with new players prior to gameplay to see what they are hoping to get out of the game. Sometimes the players know, and other times they figure it out together during the game.

    Photo credit: Dystopia Rising Colorado

    Naturally, being a writer, I am deeply interested in this aspect of LARP, even trying my hand at creating LARP narratives a few times in some of my classes. But these narratives are harder to craft than they might appear. As James Mateika, a LARPer of 11 years, says, “The hardest part is recognizing if the players are frustrated or still having fun.” And I found this to be the case when writing my own: what I thought would be fun on paper didn’t always translate in person, especially in the early stages of designing a game. Other obstacles also arose, such as players being hard to read and things not always going the way you anticipated, much like Mateika experienced in one of his games that involved fighting with foam weapons known as boffers.

    “In one game we completely missed that we were in the wrong area and killed what was supposed to be the end boss of a weekend-long game,” Mateika says. Since this occurred within the first few hours, the storytellers found that they needed to revisit the drawing board, and fast. Other times, players can think of things in ways the storyteller hadn’t considered, going in a completely different direction than initially intended.

    Having role-played many times prior to trying Dystopia Rising, I already noticed how easy it was for me to assume the roles of my characters in stories I was working on. I have learned that this comes in handy when writing dialogue and creating well thought-out characters. Noticing these benefits to LARPing, I started to wonder more about storytelling in LARP games and how it could affect my writing in forms other than LARP writing.

    This led me to understand that my involvement in role-play could actually have something to do with why I struggle to come up with a structured story. Though there are many things that can be learned from a LARP game’s narrative, Cambone believes that it’s not a skill that easily translates to other mediums. You can learn skills that will help greatly when building a good setting, or even help in understanding how different characters can realistically interact with one another. However, when it comes to creating plot, it’s rather difficult to master if you focus all your creative energy on LARPing. I’ve noticed that if I spend a lot of time role-playing and go to write immediately afterwards, I struggle to create without another person’s energy to feed off of. However, as Cambone has expressed, the more you work on maintaining your craft, the easier it will be for you to create narratives on your own. It’s an activity that forces you to think on your feet and put yourself in another pair of shoes . . . and it also allows you to encounter a roller coaster of emotions, make new friends, and experience things that you otherwise wouldn’t.

    Cambone puts it best when she says, “LARP is an experience I live.” While you can watch a movie with another person or share your thoughts about a book with others, the story remains something that you both were told. With LARP, the story is an interactive experience with another human being, something that you’ve both lived through together. You, as your character, could feel one way towards another player’s character while feeling completely different outside of the game. While LARP isn’t an activity for everyone, it allows anyone to create their own unique experience. LARP is its own kind of medium in which the list of authors is endless and the price of entry can be as low as finding a group of friends.

  • About the Author
    Rebecca Helton is a fifth-year at Miami University majoring in Interactive Media Studies with a focus on game design and minoring in Creative Writing. Rebecca is hoping to combine her two areas of study to prepare for her future as a graduate student working toward a career in Student Affairs.

    Thursday, May 2, 2019

    Theater of the Mind: How Audio Drama Made a Comeback


    Listened to any good plays lately? With the resurgence of audio drama, both the classics and some brand-new favorites are just a click away.  ♦ 
    Back in the 1960s the poet W. H. Auden declared that, because of television, “radio drama is probably a dying art,” which he felt was a real loss of an art form: “A dramatic medium in which almost all the effect depends upon the spoken word offers unique opportunities to poets,” Auden said, “and it will be a matter for regret if they are deprived of it.”

    Luckily for us, entertainment has crossed into the digital age via phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, and smart speakers, and this has allowed the former “radio drama” a new chance to continue through the beloved Amazon service Audible and podcast apps such as the Old Time Radio Player or TuneIn's Audio Drama Internet Radio. These apps and others have created space for innovation and creativity to prosper in this once-dying genre and have become a reader's—or in this case, listener's—best friend, racking in nearly a trillion dollar profit last year. I remember when Audible was the hot new thing, but I’ve been a fan of audiobooks, and especially audio drama, since my middle school years, when my local libraries added audiobooks on CD and MP3 electronic resources to their collections (I also learned why adults disliked waiting lists). Back then, Shakespeare was enemy number one as my professors loved to assign his works. Reading in a dialect older than my five times my predicted lifespan with fluctuating characters isn’t the easiest to understand—nor reading the text on the page and then trying to imagine what this voice sounds like, or how that scene played out in the midst of chaos, and so on—and I found that the audio format was my best defense.

    My love of literature has propelled me since to become an avid reader, and I'm generally not too picky about the format I choose, utilizing literary outlets and formats accordingly. If I have downtime, I like a physical experience where I can hold my book, flip the pages, bend the corners and come back later. If I’m traveling long distances and don’t want to chance leaving my book somewhere, reading on my phone is the way to go. If I’m on the go and attention isn’t required, or I’m exercising or hiking, I choose audiobooks. But there are still times when I prefer the audio drama in particular, and where its best features are still as important to me as back in my Shakespeare days.

    As an English major, I sometimes struggle to get through the sheer volume of readings in my classes just like any other student. And when classic drama is part of the syllabus—whether Fences, The Crucible, The Importance of Being Earnest, and on and on—audio drama is the format that brings the text to life for me, able to immerse the listener in the world of the play beyond trying to conjure a visual for oneself: there are skilled actors performing the parts, special effects to help you imagine action and setting, audio production (sometimes including music) to create mood, and a sense of liveliness. When trying to be all parts in my head, as I’m sure many can relate, it’s easy to lose the identities of the characters, or misunderstand the stage direction, or to disrupt the flow of the piece, and I must reread to make sure I don’t miss anything. Audio formats are helpful for staying on track, comprehending what’s in the words and maintaining the distinction between the characters. It brings a much closer experience to how the text was supposed to be encountered than merely reading the words on the page, particularly for those students who prefer auditory to visual learning, though a student can still incorporate the best of both: you can listen to the play first and then read the play, or you can listen to the audio play as you read it. Either way offers a much more immersive experience than reading alone, and believe me, your GPA will thank you.

    Today more than ever, access to literature from hundreds of years ago up to the newest releases is at your fingertips, for anyone’s price range and any way you like to enjoy it. Classic works by Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and so many others can be listened to through Audible, of course, whose current trial offer is thirty days free including one audiobook and two Audible originals (after the trial, you get one audiobook and two Audible originals for $14.99 a month). But if you can’t afford this low rate, your local public library is the next best thing, where you can access streaming audio works for free through such apps as Hoopla and Overdrive.

  • About the Author
    Jaimoneé Madison is a senior Linguistics major at Miami University with minors in Spanish and Creative Writing. She recently had her first piece accepted for publication in the upcoming edition of MU's Mosaic magazine. What Jaimoneé loves most about writing is that there's always something to propel her writing or bring her deeper into this world; at any moment she's able to take something and create from it. She had the honor of meeting the one and only African American female award-winning children's writer Sharon Draper, who gave her what she considers one of the best pieces of advice she's ever received: Write true to yourself and to your cause.

    The One Thing to Bind Them All


    Ever wonder about how a book is bound? This step-by-step guide will give you all the tools you'll need to bind your own. ♦ 
    It’s the first century BCE in modern-day India. In a dim, candle-lit room, a religious man is hunched over a pile of dried palm leaves split down the middle and covered in rubbed ink. He numbers the leaves, binds them in the middle with twine, and covers each end with hard, decorated wood. He holds his creation up to the flickering light and marvels at his work. The scribe is the world’s first known bookbinder, or bibliopegist. At that moment, he surely has no idea of the significance of his achievement.

    Walk into any modern bookstore, and you are met with a rather uniform selection of books. At first glance, they all seem to be bound with the same heavy paperboard called binder’s board, used in hardcover books. Upon closer inspection, a few books also seem to be bound in cloth, soft paper, or leather. These materials make up the four most ubiquitous forms of book bindings, but they have not always been the staples of the bookbinding industry.

    Since the advent of automation and assembly-line production, the variety of materials used to bind books has steadily dwindled. There, at one time, existed many different materials and methods to bind books. About fifteen methods to bind books proliferated throughout early recorded history, from Coptic binding, calf binding, and girdle binding, to cased cloth binding, limp vellum binding, and Ethiopian binding. The most successful technique, case binding, is commonly used today without heavy machinery. Case binding involves covering paper in a hard container, resulting in what’s more colloquially known as a hardcover book. It’s a fun, simple process that many people around the world use to renovate or decorate their favorite literature.

    I started binding books when I was in high school as a past time. There were lots of interesting books that I owned that were all plagued by inexplicably boring covers. In an effort to make the books I loved more interesting, I unknowingly delved into a hobby that would consume my attention to this day.

    In an effort to spread my love of bookbinding, I have written a step-by-step guide on how to bind books. The initial materials required are as follows: the book you wish to rebind (or generic paper), standard folios, a stapler (preferably a long-arm stapler), PVA glue (i.e. Elmer’s glue or similar), a hole punch, a butter knife, and knitting fabric.

    Step 1: Stacking

    Make sure that all of the pages are organized on landscape-oriented paper with two columns of text.
    Stack the source material’s pages into four neat piles in chronological order. Four piles is the minimum number that the paper should be divided into, as later on, we will be placing these four piles into slots in a standard accordion folio. Exceeding four piles may be necessary for more dense volumes, which will, in turn, increase the number of folios used.

    Step 2: Folding

    Divide the papers in half, hamburger-style. Remember to keep all the pages facing the same direction! Even the most experienced binders sometimes finish a book, only to realize that Chapter 17 is upside down. Depending on the texture you want your book to have, a more or less precise fold should be used. Many binders enjoy messy folds. Having the pages of your book be slightly different lengths adds a great sense of antiquity, especially within fictitious books that strive for excitement and believability.
    Unfold the paper and turn it over onto its back, so the blank side faces upwards.

    Step 3: Stapling

    One of the most exciting and fantastic pieces of equipment used by any serious bookbinder is the long-arm stapler. This baby can connect twenty to fifty pages at once, adding legitimacy to any binder whose craft might be lacking in other areas. Using a long-arm stapler it is not necessary, and normal staplers can get the job done. However, a long-arm stapler completes tasks faster and is an excellent conversation piece. This type of stapler can be purchased either online or within office supply stores.

    Place the upturned pages about two inches or so from the edge of the stapler and press firmly downwards on the stapler until all the pages have been joined together.
    Next, turn over the pages, and use a small ball peen hammer, or the side of a butter knife, to blunt and fold over the ends of the staples. This is extremely important, as failure to do so could cause flesh wounds and potentially tear the inside of the cover of the book upon completion. Make sure that you have stapled the pages together at no fewer than two separate places, but no more than three, as over-stapling adds unnecessary weight, and the binding glue does not stick easily to the metal staples.

    Step 4: Gluing

    Now for the most important part of binding: creating the very heart of each book. There are many different ways to bind books, including using twine, leather, leaves, and human skin (rare and not recommended), but for the sake of this tutorial, glue and fabric will be our binding agents.

    Procure as many normal three-ridged folios as necessary. The three ridges create four valleys that the stacks of paper will fit into.
    Cut a thin piece of fabric so that it is about the same length as the page height and roughly four to five times the width of all of the folios put together.
    Hold them together tightly, and all lined up. Imprecision here does not lead to antiquity, excitement, or believability in the final product.
    Place clips along the page edges opposite the binding to keep folios together. Use clothespins, or if your book is very thick, bulldog clips work fantastically.
    When all of the papers are aligned properly with the folios, apply white liquid glue. Amazingly, in this specialized and niche activity, normal Elmer’s glue is the easiest option. If you are feeling jazzy, a glue gun also works.
    Before it has a chance to dry, flip over the binding and glue the fabric to the other side. At this point, from left to right, spine to page edge, it should be as follows: cloth, folio, paper.

    Step 5: Covering

    Place the folio on your desired book cover. You could use an old book with a fancy cover on it that you like or a newer version of the same piece of literature. Have fun with it. There is nothing better than opening what appears to be an NRSV Bible and realizing that it is actually a cocktail cookbook. If you are using a pre-made cover (like the binding of another book), you can skip over to Step 7: “Edging.”
    For this tutorial, we will use a plain piece of corrugated cardboard, which adds a fun squishiness to the cover. Line up the cardboard’s edges so they are parallel with the folio’s edges. The tradition is to add about a quarter inch border on the non-spine edges. If the intention is for more of a Shawshank Redemption chisel-hidden-in-Bible vibe, consider other lengths that give it more thematic realism.

    Step 6: Spining

    Stack your book sandwich—cardboard, folio, cardboard—and press them together, measuring thickness.
    Cut the spine out of the same cardboard material so that it matches the thickness of the covers and paper together and that it is the same height as the book covers.

    Step 7: Edging

    Finally, you are ready to put all of the pieces together. Flip over your cardboard so that the side you want inside of the book facing upwards and place the fabric on it.
    Apply glue along the top edges of the cardboard and fold the fabric over so that it covers the edges of the cardboard. At this point, you should have your fabric covering the book, with the front and back covers laid out with the spine between them. Try not to keep space between the covers and the spine. Any space would weaken the book’s binding.

    Step 8: Binding

    Now, with your cover ready, place glue on the fabric along the spine of the folio and press firmly down onto the spine of the cover. Continue to press and hold the spine firmly.
    It is important to close the book and give it time to rest. The paper is often wrinkled from the glue, so it is best to use a low heat iron a few days later to smooth out any bumps in the paper.
    Return back the next day and behold your beautifully home-bound book! That’s it! You’re done!

  • About the Author
    John Christopher Buchheit was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and raised in Dayton, Ohio. Throughout his life, he has been very interested in bibliopegy. The strange anthropodermic bibliopegy (i.e. binding books in human skin) is what caught his attention and imagination, but in the end, it has been the more mundane materials and his love of science that have kept him as an interested and avid bibliopegist. He graduates from Miami University in May 2019 with a BA in Biology with a Pre-Medical co-major, a minor in Spanish, and a focus in European Culture. It is not quite clear what the future holds for him, but he knows that his loving friends and family will be there to support him every step of the way.