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Book trailers are a thing, I guess.

This ridiculous little video is what is known as a “book trailer.” I must be a little behind the times, because until someone mentioned them in class a few weeks ago, I had never heard of such a thing. Apparently it has become popular for authors to release a trailer for their upcoming books, similar to the use of trailers to market upcoming movies. This is an interesting development in the way authors and publishers market books, and it makes sense if you consider the times. Movies are a big thing; pretty much everybody watches movies every once in a while at the least. As such, movie trailer’s a medium with which we’re familiar. We know basically what to expect, and we know to get excited if the trailer is good. So then, why not make a trailer for books? If you want people to want your book, you need to communicate in a language they’ll understand, and people understand trailers.

But there are certainly some difficulties and downsides to using a trailer to market a book. For one, you can’t just use the footage you already have like you would with a movie, because there isn’t any footage. You either have to shoot it specifically for the trailer or make a trailer out of titles. In addition, I can see a trailer turning off an audience to a book as opposed to exciting them. When I read a novel, I enjoy the process of imagining the places and people in my mind, and I’m sure I am not alone in that. But, once someone shows you a picture of how a character is supposed to look, it’s nigh impossible to go back. Having this ruined for me before a book is even released would disappoint me.

I’m not sure I like the idea of a book trailer. It just feels wrong, or at least a bit silly. If I ever write a book, I will probably not be marketing it with a trailer. What do you folks think?

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The dorm bathroom in all its glory.

                A couple of days ago the housing emails went out to the student body here at Fox, so there has been plenty of wailing and gnashing of teeth as the majority of freshman didn’t get their first choice of living area. Because of some kind of error on the part of the housing department, I and my future roommates found out over a week ago that we had gotten where we wanted, but I didn’t really care all that much because I was hardly involved in the process anyway. I gave Eli my information, and he told me we wanted to live in Woolman Apartments (which meant nothing to me) and then I forgot about it. I didn’t even see Woolman until after we’d already gotten a spot, so that probably tells you something about my level of involvement.

                I really wouldn’t have minded getting stuck in a suite or dorm somewhere, but looking back, I can certainly think of a few things I’m not going to miss about the dorm. In a previous post, I mentioned the hazards of doing laundry in a dorm setting, but the perils do not stop there. For one, there is the bathroom. I don’t know what it is, but something about public bathrooms makes normal, mature human beings lose all rationality, motor skills, and morality. I’d say it’s something akin to the bystander effect (“I don’t have to clean it because someone else will”) but that can’t explain how some people go out of their way to make the bathroom as disgusting as possible. For some reason, someone on my floor thinks it’s really funny to throw solids such as toilet paper, water bottles, cardboard, or anything else obstructive in the urinal. This was bad enough, but then something got past the grate and clogged the urinal for a good month. But that didn’t stop them. No, they had to go ahead and keep peeing in the clogged urinal. Going to the bathroom barefoot is already enough of a gamble without puddles of urine backing up all over the floor.

                I suppose I can’t blame the urinal situation completely on the malevolence of my floor-mates. Part of the problem is just the design of the bathroom. Pennington is old enough to have been made back when the floor urinals were in. You know which ones I mean? Somebody somewhere once decided it would be a good idea if the urinal went all the way down to the floor, with the basin set into the tiles. I don’t know what they intended to accomplish with this design, but all it really does is make urine splash all over the floor in front of the urinal where you would normally want to stand. After a few people use it, the floor in front of the urinal becomes a mire of congealed ooze. This isn’t horrible if you happen to be wearing shoes, but it’s not always convenient to put shoes on just to go the bathroom. Thus, the solution when barefoot is to stand further back from the urinal on the relatively clean tile. The downside to this is that it then becomes impossible to get every drop of urine into the urinal, so more gets on the floor and creates and even bigger no-stand zone, and it turns into a vicious cycle.

                Well, if you made it this far, good for you. I had planned to mention some other issues with the bathroom, but that urinal problem ended up taking more words than I anticipated. I guess I must have had more pent-up rage about it that I thought! Thanks for reading; see you next time!

The end of publishing as we know it?

Few facets of our lives escaped the dawning of the internet unchanged. It changed the way we communicate, the way we learn, the way we work, and the way we entertain ourselves. The internet has also greatly affected the way media is brought from its creators to the hands of its consumers. I think the last time I bought music on a CD was back 2010. Does anyone even watch TV on TV anymore? But how have books been affected? Obviously, the traditional paper book has given some ground over to the e-book, but what about traditional publishing versus self-publishing? Self-published authors have recently had great success marketing their books themselves through the internet and otherwise, and as a result some believe that traditional publication is on its way out. I would disagree. If the standard publishing house becomes obsolete in the future, it will not be soon.

The majority of articles predicting the demise of traditional publication focus on a few amazing success stories, but they tend to ignore the thousands of attempted self-publishers who have failed miserably. Several self-published authors have issued statements trying to calm the self-publishing craze, emphasizing the extreme amount of labor, dedication, and luck required to make a self-published work a success. Consider Christopher Paolini, one of the few authors on Wikipedia’s list of best-selling self-published authors and author of Eragon. His whole family threw their entire business into printing and promoting his book and barely made a profit. Only when they were approached with a publishing deal with Knopf did Eragon become the success it is today. So, it doesn’t really even count. Self-publishing may be on the rise, but it certainly not taking over.

Back at it.

I have not blogged in far too long! Pre-spring break and then spring break itself both did excellently in their job of ruining my writing productivity. But, I am back at the ol’ keyboard once again. I have noticed that I will really find any excuse to slack off from writing, or really any responsibility for that matter. When the sun comes out and it’s warm, I say to myself, “It is too nice to just sit at the computer. Besides, what better inspiration for a blog post than spending the afternoon outside enjoying the beautiful day? I’ll write when it’s not so nice.” Inevitably, the next day is cloudy, cold and/or raining. “How can I write on a day like today?” I ask myself. “I’m much too depressed and dreary to muster the creative energy I need. I’ll write when it’s warm again.” The spring weather’s flighty nature has brought about an increase in the frequency of this cycle and thus brought it to my attention. After some analysis, I have come to the conclusion that I am terrible.

Well, maybe that’s too strong. What I mean to say is, I have a tendency to spend so much time thinking about things that I often fail to ever do them. I toss ideas around in my head for so long that they get stuck and have trouble finding their way onto a page. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned at college so far is that if I want something to happen, I need to just go do it. I want to be better at piano? Guess I’d better get to the practice rooms. I want to write that story I’ve been working on in my head for months? Get out some paper and start writing. Thinking is good, but overthinking is a good way to paralyze yourself.

The place of formal grammar instruction.

As you learn more about a subject, you begin to take sides on controversies which, a few months ago, you didn’t even know existed. So it is with the issue formal grammar instruction. Having always been a bit of a grammarian myself, when I heard we would be discussing the teaching of grammar, I thought I would be all for it. After all, if people are to write well, then they need to be able to communicate within the framework of the language in which they write. Otherwise, the illiteracy that runs rampant on the internet is only going to get worse.

However, my opinion was somewhat altered by an article we read for class. While I still believe the importance of having a solid grasp of one’s language cannot be emphasized enough, I do not believe that the formal teaching of grammar is the best way to accomplish this. People learn grammar through learning to speak and through reading. One can have a strong command of a language without being able to name any of its grammatical parts; the rules are internalized and used implicitly. Trying to teach good writing or speaking through teaching someone the building blocks of grammar does not work well. A friend of mine in class compared it to teaching a child to ride a bike. You don’t teach him about how a bike is constructed with all its little parts, nor do you explain all the principles of physics that are at work to enable bike-riding. Rather, you get him on the bike and make him practice until he learns to balance on his own. In the same way, good writing is learned through good reading. Good speaking is learned through hearing good speech.

This is not to say the teaching of grammar does not have its place. Knowing the construction of a sentence and being able to name its parts can help a writer edit and improve his or her writing, but it should be taught as a supplementary tool to students with a strong foundation of internalized language principles. In addition, many writing conventions cannot be picked up through learning to speak a language, and they might not necessarily be clear just from reading. Examples of this include “its” vs. “it’s” and the usage of less common punctuation such as dashes or semicolons. While a student may be able to perfectly form and speak sentences which would be written using these conventions, chances are he will not pick up on how to write such sentences correctly without formal instruction.

Spring is coming.

Spring is almost here! I had almost forgotten that winter is drawing to a close until this past week. Last weekend was beautifully sunny and warm, and just yesterday I was walking to one of my earlier classes and caught a beautiful, fresh whiff of spring fragrance on the cool air. The daffodils have bloomed and make up for the times the sun can’t quite break through the clouds. Only in the past few days, some breed of squat, wide branching tree which I don’t recognize has added its soft pink blossoms to the mix. The blooming of these flowers has made me realize how tired I’ve been of green and brown! Until the seasons started changing, I wasn’t aware of how much I’ve been missing not-winter.

Spring is a dynamic season. Summer days are wonderful but altogether uniform. Not so with spring. The sun shines, the wind blows, hail falls, and lightning crashes—all in a single day. The world wakes up from its hibernation lively and full of energy that it seems compelled to burn off before settling into the relaxation of summer. One moment may be filled with peace—the sun shines, the returning birds sing, the flowers do their thing—yet within a few hours the sky grows dark, a warm, humid wind rustles through the trees’ young leaves, and, if we’re lucky, we hear the beautiful sound of thunder rolling across the sky, reminding us of our smallness. Spring is a season with adventure woven into its very nature.

Gender Influences in Writing

To be honest, gender is not something I think about consciously on a regular basis. Or at all. So, now that I have to write about how gender influences my writing, I’m not too sure what to say. This week, we read a couple essays on writing as a man or a woman, but I found the one on writing as a man to be for completely inapplicable to myself. The author, a college composition professor, writes about his struggles with a particular brand of male student: the baseball cap-wearing, aggressive, arrogant, and irreverent kind. According to the author, these students’ personal narratives typically tell a story of their conquests in sports, sex, drinking, or breaking the law, and they emphasize separation of the self as opposed to relationships. In other words, they write about things I don’t.

The only connection I noticed between my writing and the writing of that archetype was the lack of significant female characters. In my attempts to write fiction, my protagonists are always male. This isn’t for any reason other than a lack of ability to create a good female character. They say to write what you know, and what I know is being male. If I tried to write a story with a female protagonist, it would end up feeling very contrived and awkward. Ray Bradbury, in a video I posted a few weeks back, mentions that all his good stories are based in some sort of personal metaphor. The same, I think, goes for me. If I want to write a good story that means something to me, the main character will probably have to be male. It doesn’t mean a female character can’t have a significant role—women play significant roles in my life—but I think there are enough differences between my experience as a male and the experience of women as women that the only perspective from which I can write well is that of a man.