Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Full Fathom Five

Full Fathom Five is James Frey's latest project. We all remember Frey, right? The notorious author of the 'memoir' A Million Little Pieces, he's now using his notoriety - er, sorry, industry contacts - to get young and bright-eyed MFAs published, with aims at movie deals for all of them.

Sounds great, right?

Except that said MFAs don't get to claim credit for it. Their names appear nowhere on the published book. The recent movie I Am Number Four was put out by Full Fathom Five, and the author has sued for the right to claim in public that he wrote the original novel. He's now allowed to talk about it, but his name still doesn't appear on the book.

It's an interesting concept, a think tank for coming out with cool young adult novels, surrounded by other people trying to do the same thing, with someone acting as literary agent for the whole group. Even the idea of branding as a think tank more than as a collection of individual writers is kind of fun, in concept.

Where Full Fathom Five falls off into creepy and exploitative is that James Frey is modeling it after Damien Hirst's art factory - it's all to be rewritten to his orders, and bear his stamp more than that of the writer, or even of the collective, for low wages and no recognition. The contract is a nightmare.

Which is why, despite pretty people and sparkly special effects in the previews, I will not be seeing I Am Number Four, or any future project from Full Fathom Five that makes theatres.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Akrasia, and the necessity thereof

Akrasia, as defined over at Wikipedia, is "the state of acting against one's better judgement."

For example, venti creme brulee lattes with whipped cream are bad for me. They contain dairy, which I react badly to, caffeine, which renders me strung out, and whipped cream, which renders me fat. Also sprinkles, sometimes. I know, logically, that they are bad for me and that I should not drink them. But they're also delicious.

And sometimes delicious wins. That's akrasia.

As an aspiring rationalist, I want to avoid akrasia as much as possible (that's why I have tea in front of me - that and holiday beverages being over of the year).

Since I like to have characters that represent a fair spread of humanity, there are some characters who are aspiring rationalists, too. They fall victim to akrasia infrequently, since they're specifically looking to avoid it, but they still do, since they're still aspiring rationalists. And, in my stories, they end up in extreme situations where their best interests might not always be clear, making akrasia nearly inescapable.

For non-rationalist characters, akrasia is much more frequent. They do things like go off on adventures to save the world, when staying where they are and filing a complaint with their local representative or calling the police would be more practical and be the more logical decision, as there are agencies which are more effective than they are as an individual and present lower risk to life and limb.

It's important to separate akrasia from the character judging outcomes using only the information they have, as opposed to information the author has. If the character has let their dog outside and hears a scratching at the door that sounds just like their dog, but the author has shown that it's a ravenous wolf scratching at the door, the character is acting in their best interest as far as they know when they let the wolf in. To a reader, it's achingly stupid, but the character is using the information they have available. To present the same character in a situation that really would involve akrasia, install a window next to the door. The character has heard stories on the news of wolf sightings in town. It's dark out, and the shape is canine, but distinctly not that of his dog. He wants it to be his dog, since otherwise it means something has happened to make his dog not send up an alarm. Does he keep the door closed and call animal control, or let hope rule and let in the wolf?

Take out the possibility of akrasia, and you as a writer remove a great deal of suspense from your writing. The three main conflicts are man against nature, man against man, and man against himself. A rationalist who acts always towards what is best for themselves removes the third conflict. An aspiring rationalist, however, may simply elucidate that conflict more than many.

In fiction, akrasia serves a purpose, and can be good. It adds conflict, and makes characters more relatable to we flawed mortals who don't choose rationally at all junctures. If the main character of Alexander behaved in a rational way, I'd never have made it past Chapter One with that particular story. This post is a result of more ruminating on the differences between good fiction and good life.

This post is also up at my group writing blog, Lunatic Writers.

And now, blog post complete, I shall go and drink something with sprinkles.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Writing Software

Another frequent topic of debate is the technology used to write. Most frequently I see pen and paper vs computer, but not nearly enough do I see comparisons of the writing software available.

Microsoft Word and Notepad are the most obvious tools, since they come bundled with a Windows package on almost any PC you can buy commercially. But if you've had to wipe your hard drive and have lost your discs or are more interested in freeware in general, there's OpenOffice. It has a lot of the same features as Word, except it can save in more formats. The default format isn't Word, and Track Changes is hard to translate to another machine that doesn't run OpenOffice, but it's free, not particularly buggy, and has lots of online support. Probably not best for absolute computer beginners, but if you can google "how do I ___ in OpenOffice" and aren't particularly set in your ways with Word, it's a nice way to go. And if you feel bad about using freeware, you can just donate: a substantial donation at can still be cheaper than Word.

But what if you're frequently switching between machines, and can't keep track of a flash drive to save your life? What if you're collaborating on a project with six people and can't keep track of the latest version? What if, like me, you don't want your hard work tied to your hardware? Then there's Google Docs. Available anywhere there's internet, they have a few fewer formatting capabilities than some software, but are free and perfect for collaboration. There's a bit of a learning curve for using it, but it's been well worth it for me.

Then there are the writing-specific softwares, like Dramatica and StoryWeaver. The only one of these that I've tried is yWriter5 (which everyone will be shocked to find is freeware). I found it interesting, the way it encourages planning and structure and pre-writing, but didn't find that it gave me any appreciable advantage that couldn't be filled by a spreadsheet. For people with large, sprawling worlds and huge casts of characters, it might provide more of an advantage.

Like every other aspect of writing, it's a matter of finding those tools that work for you.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Island Writer Launch

Volume 9 Issue 1 of Island Writer launched tonight. It was my first issue as Editor In Chief.

There were a few minor crises, of course: un-synched lists meant that there were three people I wasn't sure were reading until tonight, the final cover with the price on it wasn't the one that went to print, Claudia de Veaux and her poem Waiting didn't make it into the table of contents, and the 2010 contest honorable mentions were forgotten from my list altogether (sorry!).

But it was a fantastic launch: the readers were funny and moving by turns, the magazine was there, with enough for everyone who attended. Marianne Altos from the City Council came by and said very nice things. The magazine looked great! There was punch and cookies and fruit and cheese!

And I'm utterly exhausted. This is the result of six months hard work on the part of myself and Kim Nayyer, the Creative Non Fiction Editor; Sheila Martindale, the Poetry Editor; Catherine George, the Fiction Editor; and Simeon Goa, the Art Director. And then a week of living on nerves making sure the details for the launch were finalized. I'm utterly elated that it went this well, and I'm crawling into bed as soon as I type this last period.