This American Life: Superpowers

What superpower would you rather have–flight or invisibility? What do others choose? Why? What does it say about you?

Want to hear about a gal named Zora who, as a teen, made a list of everything that a superhero would have to know how to do, things like flying helicopters and diffusing bombs, and then set out to do it. Zora finished her list, btw. She’s a bounty hunter now.

You can hear this right now on  This American Life episode 178: Superpowers .

It’s a fabulous hour-long program.

Another positive review for Servant of a Dark God: Don D’Ammassa

Here’s Don D’Ammassa, yet another one of these reading forces of nature (about 1 book per day), on Servant of a Dark God.

This first fantasy novel gets kudos from the outset because the setting was sufficiently different from the usual to make me perk up after only a couple of chapters…This series shows a good deal of promise mixing workmanlike writing with some genuinely interesting ideas.  More

Ack! It’s English class

Lorrie McNeill gives her middle school students a wide choice of reading in Jonesboro, Ga.

Junior High and High School English = grammar, spelling, and reading Cliff Notes.


It all depends on the goal. The NY Times recently published an article about a whole other approach to language arts. Nellie is one of those who is trying this new approach with her 7th and 8th graders.

She’s had experienced similar fears, similar results, and similar comments from parents as the teacher featured in the article. Most importantly Nellie has kids reading more than they’ve ever read in their lives, writing more than they ever imagined they could. And it all derives from a change in the goal—make lifelong joyous readers and writers versus teaching the students to be able to recite facts about a given set of works.

Of course, the students still learn literary concepts and grammar, but only as it supports and relates to their writing for publication, whatever form that publication may take (family newsletter, review in local or school paper, letter to favorite author, pro, etc.)

She’s loving this program and has been amazed at some of the stuff these kids produce and the progress they make when natural motivation kicks in.

BOOKS | August 30, 2009
The Future of Reading: A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like
The experimental approach is part of a movement to revolutionize the way literature is taught in U.S. schools.

And for you who might think society might fall if we let them choose their books, consider this…

LIFE & STYLE, AUGUST 29, 2009, 5:04 A.M. ET
Good Books Don’t Have to Be Hard: A novelist on the pleasure of reading stories that don’t bore; rising up from the supermarket racks
By Lev Grossman

How many copies do average authors sell?

I posted earlier about the sales number for best-selling authors. What about the average author?

Here’s Patrick Nielsen Hayden, an editor at Tor Books, in an interview on about the future effects of e-text on publishing:

io9: Does it make a difference to you if an author has an online reputation? Does that go into your decisions to acquire books?

PNH: Obviously it makes a difference if an author has a public online profile of some sort, even just down to the level of having a moderately popular blog. Most books sell 5, 10, or 15 thousand copies. Most are midlist books. With those people, even a modest online presence can make a difference in sales.

The whole interview is interesting. In fact, he says something that I think is important to note about what today’s novelists and, to a lesser degree, short story writers are actually providing:

One thing I’m sure of is that we’re [Tor Books] going to be in linear immersive narratives that produce the reading trance. We won’t be moving towards a “choose your own adventure” thing. People will do those things, but those are different art forms. There’s something about immersive text that you can read in order – it’s persisted through many technological changes. This fiction stuff works pretty well. It’s been around a long time

I think he’s right. The EXPERIENCE you get in the reader’s trance, similar to the one you get in a movie, is a strong experience. The media used to convey that experience doesn’t really matter as long as it makes it easy to get into the trance.

Check out the whole interview.

In writing, profanity is a tool, but not the only tool

In this week’s Writing Excuses comments, a poster named Sam asked:

How do you, as writers, get past your own inhibitions concerning the use of profanity in order to write a character who does use it?

Why get past them?

Any given audience has values (as do you as a writer). Stomp on the values too much and you will make the readers so uncomfortable or angry that their discomfort will outweigh the draw of the story. They will put you down and never read you again. For one audience it’s gore. Another it’s explicit sex or vulgarity. For another it’s the bashing of a political stance or a particular demographic.

If you or your audience is uncomfortable with profanity then say “he swore” OR find another way to convey the information the profanity does.

Writing works by evoking types in the reader’s mind (as well as type resistors for surprise, curiosity, humor, etc.). Trigger a type and all the data associated with that type comes with it. Profanity is one way to trigger a type (or work against type) in the reader’s mind. But there are many other ways to evoke that same type, many ways to produce the same effect. Language, especially profanity, is a powerful and efficient method, but it’s not the only one.

You want a mean cruel man? You can have him call his wife a “cu**” all the time. OR you can just show him doing something cruel to her or slapping her, e.g. he grabs her by the neck and makes her look at the food on his plate up close like some pet owners do to dogs when they crap where they shouldn’t–”Does that look like beef stroganoff to you? Stupid whore.”

Look at Prison Break. Teddy needed to be scary. Profanity could have helped trigger his character. After all, cons use a lot of profanity. But Prison Break was prime time so the writers used other things to evoke the types they needed. Teddy worked for the purposes of that story. All of the cons did. They were believable. And all that without a deluge of profanity.

Stay away from replacement profanity that evokes a different type. For example, if you had Teddy using “darn it” all the time, unless it was part of some particular character attribute, it would have not been believable because it evokes the wrong type, e.g. Ned Flanders.

So if you don’t want to use profanity, don’t. Think about your objective and find another type trigger.