Digital Genres

July 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

What are the new digital genres? New lingo is springing up — “cross-platform” or in the phrase that shows up no where in Google, so that must mean I coined it (not saying I did, just that Google can’t find it — “re-sourcing digital content”, by resourcing digital content, I mean that when an artist or author creates digital content, how do you use that resource.   Each digital publisher needs a Digital Resource Department that operates like a Human Resource Department — assigning the digital content out to its numerous potential incarnations.  Digital genres aren’t so much new genres as new genres that have the potential to be monetized.

Some Potential Digital Generes:

Interactive fiction: A merging of the gaming genre with the literary world.  Many forms of game have long contained a form of interactive story telling — for my generation, Dungeons and Dragons.

Non-linear fiction: Using hyperlinks to create a non-linear narrative. This genre could easily split into multiple genres — romance, mystery, erotic, literary.   Traditional publishing has gone down the non-linear rabbit hole.   A memorable non-linear text for me was The House of Leaves.  James Joyce at least feels non-linear to me and almost anything by David Foster Wallace proves that footnotes are the print version of hyperlinks.  Poetry is replete with non-linear type images and narratives (thus the success of T.S. Eliot “The Wasteland” App on iTunes) .

Multi-media Fiction:  This seems to be the genre that gets the most attention, but also the one that I think in a way is a little overblown.  Is the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Visit From the Goon Squad, multi-media fiction because it contains a chapter that is a PowerPoint presentation?  What about DVD extras that include text?  Audio books?  The written or spoken word changed into digital form moves seamlessly across media, that isn’t genre, that is flexibility.

The difference between the artist and the publisher is the publisher’s concern over how to monetize a new digital genre.   The digital world only seems to exacerbate the century old conflict of cash and artistic purity.  Yet, the potential for profitably monetizing artistic efforts in the digital realm that expands your potential market into the millions and billions, you only need a micro-percentage, a relatively small tribe of followers to patronize the artist to artistic freedom.

The palate of digital expression is larger than any artists or writers  have had at their disposal in the history of the earth. The critical question is how do you sell what you do digitally. Where is your audience going to read it — a phone app, on their iPad, Kindle, Nook or computer screen? How are you going to get them to pay for it? I want exciting digital genres, but like any artist, you need to pay attention to your canvas and the gallery where you can sell your wares.


Sex, Politics, Morality, Gender and the Publication of the Private(s)

June 12, 2011 § Leave a comment

        Sex and politics have always been strange bedfellows where the trysts and couplings of political ideology and sexual mores end up resembling either Dr. Doolitle’s Push-me-Pull-you or a Caligulan orgy, neither of which allow delineation of what belongs to whom.  Unfortunately for Anthony Weiner, he tweeted on to the zeitgeist’s resonant frequency.[1]
        Politics has a constant right/left shift.  Sex oscillates between the male and the female.  Our social ambivalence to technology veers between (betweet?)  analog and digital.  Gender issues battle over power and weakness.  Religion, at least among the monotheists, is a three way tug-of-war between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Race and ethnic biases still pulse with the historical tension throughout our society — Loving v. Virginia[2] is not as old as I am and the election of a black president has only illuminated the strong racist undercurrent that still exists in this country[3].   We shut our blinds to watch reality TV, as the public and private battle it out.  
        The easy jumping off point for most people was the punny —  Weiner’s weiner and the slew of puns that are, uh, hard to pass up.  The first phase however was political.  Politicians and politicos have long used the sexual proclivities of their political opponents to try and gain a political advantage.  Andrew Breitbart is only the most recent in a long line of *uckrakers[4], beginning with James T. Callendar, who went after none other than the drafter of the Declaration of Independence.  Did Thomas Jefferson’s fathering of children by Sally Hemming impinge on the morality of the truths that we hold to be self-evident?  I don’t think so.  Apparently all men are created equally in the struggling with sexuality department, too. [5]   
Politics and sex have been over exposed so I’ll move on to a more important question: Are women turned on by the site of a man’s junk or is women porn really a guy vacuuming?  I would say inquiring minds want to know, but the discussion digresses into a slew of jokes about which head is doing the thinking and  devolves into flat condemnation of men’s brutish sexual flashing.
I’m more interested in the flip side, which is the defusing of female sexuality.  Sexual imagery is arousing to both sexes, yet in a Kinsey-ian flashback,[6] our culture seems unprepared or unwilling to acknowledge that, yes, women too are sexual beings.  Sexism is the attribution of a supposed negative aspects to a specific gender.  Saying women are not as bright as men is clearly a sexist comment, but so is saying men are more sexual than women. Not to belabor a biological point – but you are reading this and that means your mother did it.  
The ambivalence to female sexuality (most of Weiner’s texts/chats/pictures) were sent in the context of mutual sexual cyber-play with women, who presumably have the ability and wherewith-all to locate the send, enter and power buttons on their computers.  Yet there is an undercurrent on the Weiner story of his “attack” on these women.  Nothing overt, just a sense of a Weiner attack.   More horrific than Weiner’s picture seems to be the fear that any of these women were sexually complicit.
Enter race and stereotype —  Philip Roth’s lascivious Jew, Portnoy complaining  as he defiles the family dinner.  A horny, dirty swarthy Jew is sending dirty pictures to middle America white, wholesome, pure, virginal girls!  Look at that nose.  Pretty damning stuff, so how do you hide racist motivations?
Marriage is what brings the racists together.[7]  The Jew was married — and his wife is pregnant!  Not only is he defiling wholesome mid-western porn stars, but traditional American institutions as well — marriage and motherhood.  He probably Portnoy-ed the apple pie in a Chevy, too.  
 However, in post 9-11 America, nothing is so simple.  The paragon of motherhood and virtue — a powerful woman of Saudi Arabian (Is she Muslim?) descent, Huma Aberdin, right hand “man?” to Hilary Clinton.  Huma is the embodiment of political and traditional male power, marriage and motherhood all rolled into one neat and ethnically diverse and confusing package.[8] Her husband?  A name subjected to adolescent sophomoric humor that he will now never escape — Portnoy’s Complaint made flesh.
Amidst all of the political and sexual machinations, a question begs to be asked.  What of the personal should be exposed?  The compulsion to seek approval of one’s male virility makes men’s sexual actions often seem foolish and non-thinking.  Should that be subjected to public scorn, ridicule and judgment?
Regardless of one’s thoughts on sexual morality, the public-ization of the private is a balance that the law and society has constantly struggled to maintain.  A common euphemism for genitalia is “privates”  and if you ask the Congressman, I’m sure he would tell you that he would have liked for his private purveying of his private private pictures to remain private.  Yet, technology has made the private more public and if anything, the Weiner incident (scandal is overblown) illustrates the rapidity with which the private can go public and viral.  And as with any virus, those most infected will experience the crushing emotion of ostracization and societal scorn, while the observers can rest in the ease of knowing their private shame and privates remain private.  No need for compassion when it is not your life being ridiculed.
I’ve seen and heard a lot of commentary, but not once did I hear anyone suggest that Weiner, should have simply said when asked if it was his photo — “None, of your damn business.”  Of course, everyone would have taken that as an admission, which ultimately came anyway, but it would have drawn a line between the private and the public.  No tearful, Breitbart co-opted press conference required.  
Weiner’s waggle in the public eye combined sex, politics, gender and morality, but most overlooked, it held up a mirror to our uneasiness with technology and social media, where the private can become the public with a push of the button.   And as the private personal fantasy enters public reality, the consummation gives birth to the surreal.  

[1]“Resonant frequency” is the physics term describing the frequency at which a system oscillates at larger amplitudes than the normal  frequencies.  It is the reason your car will shake at certain speeds, but will smooth out if you go a little bit faster or a little bit slower.  
[2]Loving v. Virgina is the 1967 anti-State’s right, 14th Amendment case in which the Supreme Court outlawed the type of marriage that allowed current Justice, Clarence Thomas, to marry his right wing, tea partying wife.  Insert irony here.
[3]And the racism crosses cultural boundaries, from the notorious New Yorker cover to the birthers.
[4]F or M, you decide.
[5]Footnotes appear to be in my ironic blood today.  Judging from the treatment of David Vitter by the Republican power network, including Utah’s own hymn writing senator Orrin Hatch, Weiner would have been better off getting his sex the oldest fashioned way — paying for it.
[6]Congressional inquiries were made into whether Kinsey or the Rockefeller Foundation were Communists.  The sexualization of women had to be a Communist plot.  Newspapers and editorials lambasted Kinsey for his attack on “American womanhood”, all while he was telling them to pay more attention to the American woman’s hood.
[7]My apologies to A Princess Bride.
[8]And she didn’t literally “stand by” her man.

Dear Voters

November 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

Dear Voters,

If you are as anti-deficit as you say you are and as fiscally conservative as you say you are, then you should have no problem raising revenues on the richest 2% of the country. They don’t pay those taxes now, but boy are they creating lots of jobs. (That is sarcasm for the literal minded.)

It isn’t Entitlement that I want from my government, it is Protection. Regulation that protects Wall Street from creating risky financial instruments that suck all the money off of Main Street, out of employer’s pockets and puts it into Goldman Sachs bonuses.  I want  protection from predators trying to take away my hard earned money.  We were so worried about the terrorist wolves abroad that you have allowed the economic terrorists at home to take your jobs, your money and your retirement funds.

Now those recently elected are promising us less government.  Let me spell it out for you simply — less government, equals less protection for you, the citizens.

I don’t know about you, but I work with people employed by the government every day.  It is the individuals working for the government that make my life much easier and much happier.   Our local economy here would be devastated if you eliminated municipal workers, Hill Air Force Base, IRS employees, teachers, police officers, firefighters, court personnel, public defenders, prosecutors and the local university. If you eliminated all of those great people, who I guess you could say are on the government dole, the whole system would collapse and three quarters of the population wouldn’t have a job.

What exactly are you railing against? If you are an independent business person, where are the wages coming that are buying your goods and paying your services? This isn’t a pyramid scheme, this is society and civilization.

Most economists I’ve read feel that given the great economic engine that is the United States, the debt is fixable. The biggest problem we face and why we look at huge budget deficits is because for the past ten years we’ve been spending our money on blowing things up and pissing people around the world off, rather than building productive things.

Everyone seemed to have such glee watching Tomahawk missiles spray down on Baghdad, but we all seem to forget that each one of those missiles cost $1.4 million dollars. And when you spend that $1.4 million all you have left is a pile of rubble. What could your community do with just say, one Tomahawk missile? Granted the folks in Tuscon that make them see some of that benefit, but it is still $1.4 million gone in 60 seconds. What if you had used it to build a community center or park? The income would still have gone to Tuscon workers, but you’ld still have the community center. Or even better, loan the $1.4 million at little or no interest to local entrepreneurs to build a new business in the community, then you get the money back and have a new business.

And what would this argument be without all the health care scare tactics. The health care reform bill is an imperfect piece of legislation because that is what our system is designed to create. The compromise isn’t creating bigger government. Apparently you are OK with large private insurance company bureaucracies that are designed to make money and deny you health care. That is the free market economy at work, but make damn sure you never get sick or have a chronic condition — or at least make a lot of money so you can pay for your health care. I don’t see why we should differentiate between police and fire protection and health care protection. These are necessary for all of us. The health care reform was a small step in eliminating some of the corporate bureaucratic costs associated with health care.

Here is the best argument I can see for heavily government regulated health care system (like you can’t be denied for pre-existing conditions and rates are subject to government review, like we got in the new legislation) — I can’t vote for a new Insurance Company. I can vote for legislators to refine the health care system to make it even more equitable and affordable.

Do not forget, while propounding the Founding Fathers, that this is a government by the people and for the people.

We are the government and we have it to do things for us.

I say that we have it do some nice things for us (and to borrow a two year old phrase) for a change.

Saul Bellow to Philip Roth: The Holy Trinity of Writing Motives

October 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

An interesting missive on why author’s write.  I give much thanks to my brother Dave for sending me the letter.  I’m going to go get the book of all of Bellow’s letters.

To Philip Roth:

January 7, 1984

Dear Philip:

I thought to do something good by giving an interview to People, which was
exceedingly foolish of me.  I asked Aaron [Asher] to tell you that the Good
Intentions Paving Company had fucked up again.  The young interviewer turned my
opinions inside out, cut out the praises and made it all sound like disavowal,
denunciation and excommunication.  Well, we’re both used to this kind of thing,
and beyond shock.  In agreeing to take the call, and make a statement I was
simply muddle-headed.  But if I had been interviewed by an angel for
the Seraphim and Cherubim Weekly I’d have said, as I actually did say to the
crooked little slut, that you were one of our very best and most interesting
writers.  I would have added that I was greatly stimulated and entertained by
your last novel, and that of course after three decades I understood perfectly
well what you were saying about the writer’s trade – how could I not understand,
or miss suffering the same pains.  Still our diagrams are different, and the
briefest description of the differences would be that you seem to have accepted
the Freudian explanation: A writer is motivated by his desire for fame, money
and sexual opportunities.  Whereas I have never taken this trinity of motives
seriously.  But this is an explanatory note and I don’t intend to make a
rabbinic occasion of it.  Please accept my regrets and apologies, also my best
wishes.  I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do about the journalists; we can only
hope that they will die off as the deerflies do towards the end of August.

– Saul Bellow, Letters

So what are your trinity of motives for writing?

Prerequisite to Bitching About eBooks

October 20, 2010 § 5 Comments

Before you can bitch and complain about eBooks, you have to actually have purchased a book in the 21st Century and read it. Experience has taught me that most people yearning for the smell and feel of old musty volumes, haven’t read an old musty volume or an new, binding breaking volume in a very long time.

My biggest beef with most of the discussion about the Kindle is that it usually comes from people who don’t buy books. Can you name the last 7 books you bought? The last 20? Here is my October list (20 days). Unless otherwise noted, I bought them all on Amazon.

1. Dead Man’s Cell Phone Sarah Ruhl
2. Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Mark Vonnegut
3. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned Wells Tower
4. Why Theology Can’t Save Us John Gustav-Wrathall
5. The Proviso Moriah Jovan
6. Sons of the Fathers Paul Toscano
7. Out of the Mount Various Authors
8. TDTM JulieAnn Carter Winward
9. A Scattered Life Karen McQuestion
10. Reading Lolita in Tehran Azar Nafisi
11. Nemesis Philip Roth
12. The Great House Nicole Krause
13. At Home Bill Bryson
14. House of Meetings Martin Amis
15. Where Good Ideas Come From Steve Johnson
16. Breakthrough Dental Marketing Joel Harris
17. The Moral Landscape Sam Harris
18. Republic of Debtors Bruce Mann
19. Sister Wife Natalie Collins
20. The Fourth World Natalie Collins

When you buy that many books in a month and only spend around $100, your printed words that you possess are thriving, not dying.

I have them all with me now (along with 400 other books), not to mention the complete works of Dostoyevsky, Dickens and Austen — and I have five different tools to read or listen to them on (Kindle, iPad, Laptop, cell phone and iPod).

Do yourself a favor and get off the Luddite Express going nowhere and actually read something. Oh and while I was writing this post, I bought The Sayings of Confucius.

Packing Books

October 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m moving my physical library. I’m at 30 boxes and not even half done. I’ve read countless articles on digital books and I love my 350+ digital library that is with me all the time, but I’ve never once read anything about whether an important metaphor will be lost with the digital flood.

Words are so heavy.

Words overwhelm me, press down on me. I pick up a box of books and the muscles strain and my breathing quickens. I hold in my arms the lives of people — authors, actors, translators, editors, typesetters, booksellers. Their words are heavy.

Dust has accumulated on the shelf were they sat. No book burning ash, but they have returned to dust. I could start reading my library today and if I did nothing else, I would be dust before I finished.

Tomes are tombs where we bury our dead. And the tombs are made of heavy granite.

Everyone Has Ink By the Barrel

October 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

Now everyone has ink by the barrel, the power will go to those who can hold our attention.

The changes in publishing are exciting, but how do you get past the narcissism of an audience of one? The CEO of Border’s stated, ” “Everyone has a story to tell, pictures to share or advice to give.” Yes, we want to hear other people’s stories, but even more so, we want our story heard, often to the exclusion of everyone else. The paradox is we want connectivity and individuality.

Facebook quickly turns into numbing sameness. Everyone may have pictures to share and advice to give — and most of it is bad or mediocre at best.

Places like Borders, Amazon, B&N, Apple that allow us to self-publish are cashing in on our narcissism — post your stuff for people to buy. Maybe only 3 people will buy it, but hey, that is OK, because we publish everyone and 3 times everyone is a lot of money for us. This is vanity publishing exploded into tiny little profitable bits.

I am in the race, but not the publish everything race. I’m in the filter race. Even the filter world will be fractioned, but the filter pie is the pie I want to eat — not the crumbs of self-publishing.