What I’ve Been Reading: Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy

There are two things I have to admit before we can talk about the Southern Reach trilogy:

  1. My partner and I have a secret, special place online… a shared folder of ebooks. This magical spot includes every DRM-free file we’ve ever bought, plus all the digital books and magazines we’ve gotten free at cons, as contributor copies, or in giveaways. Between the two of us, we have hundreds of reading options, collected over a decade.
  2. Last November, he got me a tablet for my birthday. It was inexpensive, a few years out of date, and doesn’t run very quickly, on purpose, because I wanted something with a 10 inch screen that I couldn’t use for games. I wanted a reading tablet, something to help me get through that giant digital to-be-read pile. The tablet I was gifted is absolutely perfect for the job.

So, you’d think I read a lot. I haven’t been. For a couple of years, I haven’t been able to get into a headspace for reading for pleasure, so unless a book or story promised to enhance my writing techniques or was for research, I put in the “someday” pile and moved on.

Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, US cover.

Last week, I opened up Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, the first book in his Southern Reach trilogy. I’d put off reading it for a long time, partly because I had this idea in my head that it was going to be hard to read. Smarter than I am. Too literary for my mood. More… something, than I was ready for. It’s not.

Annihilation is so well written that it feels easy. I didn’t notice the work that must have gone into writing it at all, even though it’s my job to analyze writing, break down work into its component parts. I planned to, when I started reading, but I forgot about studying the technique as I got into the story.  Annihilation is that rare kind of beautiful epic which creates an entire world yet effortlessly flows from the page as fast as you can move your eyeballs. I tore through the first book and ended up reading the whole trilogy in two days. Continue reading

Art History Resources For Writers: Visualizing African American Print Culture

“Print culture” includes all forms of printed text and printed visual communication – including books, newspapers, photographs, advertisements, and print art. African Americans not only participated in the creation of this material in general (including contributing to several printing press and photographic innovations) but also documented themselves and others. I wasn’t able to make the African American Expression in Print and Digital Culture conference in Madison a few weeks ago, but the attendees did an excellent job of live-tweeting and sharing links. I used that as a start to put together this list of links for writers who want to use real, actual, history as a reference for their fiction. Rather than make assumptions about what African Americans wore, did, or were involved in at any point in our country’s history, you can instead find out for yourself.

Bernard Arms, uncle of Lewis Arms, poses with his girlfriend Nellie, who he later married. Early 20th century. Credit: Wisconsin Historical Society.

Bernard Arms, uncle of Lewis Arms, poses with his girlfriend Nellie, who he later married. Early 20th century. Credit: Wisconsin Historical Society.

Resources:

The Wisconsin Historical Society has an amazing collection of images online, searchable and sorted by galleries. You can find it here. You might particularly be interested in these galleries:

The Teenie Weenies in the Wildwood, original ink drawing of William Donahey's "Teenie Weenies." via Wisconsin Historical Society

The Teenie Weenies in the Wildwood, original ink drawing of William Donahey’s “Teenie Weenies.” via Wisconsin Historical Society

Image taken by Suzanne Sawyer of “Racist type cuts called ‘Brownies’ or ‘Jim Crows’” – used in printing

Through the Lens of Time: Images of African Americans from the Cook Collection – digital collection of over 250 images of African Americans dating from the nineteenth and early twentieth century, housed at Virginia Commonwealth University

Black History resources at The National Archives – massive collection of photographs, documents, and links to other material online

Texas African American Photography Archive – founded by Alan Govenar and Kaleta Doolin:

The TAAP archive provides a broad overview of African American photography in the urban and rural areas of Texas, spanning the period from the 1870s to the present and representing a variety of processes and makers. The Archive is unique in its comprehensiveness, and consists of over 50,000 photographic negatives and prints and more than 20 oral histories collected from African American photographers. Most of the items in the Archive have been donated by the photographers and their families, while others have been acquired from private collections.

Library of Congress – enormous searchable online archive (link goes to “African American”)

Western Reserve Historical Society – photograph collections, many online. Also includes newspaper and microfilm collections, as well as historical information

Robert Langmuir African American Photograph Collection – “This extensive collection contains more than 12,000 photographs depicting African American life from as early as the 1840s through the 1970s.” Housed at Emory.

Pratt Library’s African American Resources

Early Caribbean Digital Archive – “a highly interactive digital scholars lab for the collaborative research and study of pre-C20 Caribbean literature”, includes an archive of digitized texts, and invites scholars to engage with and contribute to the work. Not strictly African-American, it nonetheless represents an important resources for writers working with slave and immigration stories (as well as those writing stories with Caribbean characters). Three online exhibits:

“Downing Family Photo,” ColoredConventions.org

“Downing Family Photo,” ColoredConventions.org

Colored Conventions – digital archive of black political and community organizing in the 19th century. Mainly includes transcribed minutes from events, excellent bibliography here. Site is in progress; plans include maps and data tables (to be added Fall 2014).

Gallon & Black Press Research Collective –  promotes digital research of Black newspapers, includes a huge list of online archives here.

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963) The Souls of Black Folk, Essays and Sketches Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1903 Rare Books Collection

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
The Souls of Black Folk, Essays and Sketches
Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1903
Rare Books Collection

Race and the Design of American Life – “African Americans in 20th Century Commercial Art”. U of Chicago Library exhibit documenting the way African American bodies are used to sell everything from food to shoes to music.

Burrell Communications Group – Wiki article on 1970s ad agency established specifically to market to African Americans,

and to tap into how the Black Aesthetic could also appeal to the general market consumer. It was at this time that Tom Burrell coined the phrase, “Black people are not dark-skinned white people.”

“Black Printers” on White Cards: Information Architecture in the Database of the Early American Book Tradesthe American Antiquarian Society Blog, Molly Hardy – lists a number of African American printers active in the trade in the eighteenth to early twentieth centuries

Books to check out:

“Theresa; a Haytien Tale” (1827) – Free PDF download of an example of pre-twentieth century African American literature, from Just Teach One: Early African American Print project.

Print Culture in a Diverse America (History of Communication), James P Danky (Editor), Wayne A Wiegand (Editor)

The South Carolina Roots of African American Thought, Edited by Rhondda Robinson Thomas and Susanna Ashton

Early African American Print Culture, Lara Langer Cohen and Jordan Alexander Stein, Editors

Representing the Race, A New Political History of African American Literature, Gene Andrew Jarrett

The African American Church Community in Rochester, New York, 1900-1940, Ingrid Overacker

All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, Martha S. Jones

This list is intended as a starting place and is by no means exhaustive. Please add your own suggestions in the comments below.

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Self publishing stats: Women and Other Constructs, First 30+ days

When I published my first collection of short fiction, I said I would add up the stats after 30 days. The highlights:

  • The book cost me $0 to create. I did every bit of the work myself: writing, editing, page layout, cover design, and art. Ebooks and print-ready PDF, too. I also did the distribution, setting up for a variety of ebook sales, and print via Amazon. I chose methods that didn’t have any up front cost at all. The only thing I paid in advance was $10 a month for the online shopping cart.
  • The fiction in the book was worth $462.21–based on a $0.05 per word minimum pro rate for the new writing, and the standard $0.01 minimum reprint rate.
  • I published the book on June 28, and calculated income for the end of June/all of July; that’s about 33 days.
  • I made a total of $195.31 over that time. I haven’t been paid for all of it yet, but that’s the calculated income.

Doing the math

The stories were six reprints I’d previously published, and two stories I hadn’t sold before, along with an intro and notes at the end. Continue reading

Book Spine Poetry

In honor of National Poetry Month, and inspired by Brainpicking’s book spine poetry, may I present my latest masterpiece?

*steps up to the mic*

Ahem.

FRIDAY

Dreams of decadence
Strange men, in pinstripe suits
Pretty monsters …
Alien sex!
I am legend.

Thank you.

*walks off stage*

You can make your own. Find poetic genius amongst the titles in your personal library, or go out into the world and disorganize a bookstore, creatively! (Just remember to put everything back where you found it.) These are from my bookshelves at home:

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Art History Resources For Writers: A Look At Book Cover Design

I recently made the decision to expand this blog from simply talking about writing to talking about stories. Stories told in film, in images, and – most often – in words. Though many of you know that my academic field of study was art history, what you may not know is that I specifically study book history, which (for me) includes techniques of book creation, and the book as art. I love Early American books the best: hand-printed manuscripts on hand-made paper, pressed into a hand-built machine and gifted with words by hand-carved type bearing hand-made ink. How is that not an art?

While the evolution of book history means that the construction of most books has been industrialized (for large print runs, though there are still amazing artists making hand-crafted books, and I’ll talk more about them later) and even removed as we move into digital reading, the two places that you can still find art in a book are in the font choices, and in the cover. Some books go farther and incorporated art and design into the layout, but even the most minimal of interiors uses a font, and probably has a cover.

Book cover design is its own kind of art. It can be, when done well, its own kind of beautiful. Here are a couple of resources to get you introduced to the possibilities:

Some recent examples at The Book Cover Archive

The Book Cover Archive, “for the appreciation and categorization of excellence in book cover design”. Not only do they post their favorite new book covers, but they also offer up a blog about book design news (it doesn’t update often but I love the very visual aspect of their posts). The whole site is built around the visual so you won’t get too much design discussion but they 1300+ pages of material to scroll through give you an immersion into cover design that can’t be beat. Continue reading