Author Archives: harrisrh

You’re Not Too Old to Publish (or Start a New Career)

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When I read this piece titled “I’m Almost 40 and Still Getting Rejected—Am I Running Out of Time? The Blunt Instrument on how old is too old to become a successful writer” I knew I had to add my two cents. Er, two words: Marina Lewycka.

Ms. Lewycka is the author of the fantastic novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. She published that debut novel of hers at the age of 59 – and she hasn’t looked back since then.

If you’re an aspiring author (or just wondering if it’s ever too late to start a new career), look not to the fictional words of George Eliot, but to the great success Marina Lewycka has enjoyed for more than a decade.

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IQ Test Time!

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Running on empty, Jackson Browne?

Who doesn’t love taking tests! I had to link to this if only because it will validate that you are either a) a genius or b) grateful that you’re not taking the SAT ever again.

In a piece titled “The World’s Shortest IQ Test Is Only Three Questions,” Joanie Faletto gives you the (feared/anticipated) three questions and their answers.

Good luck!

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Note to Indie Authors: Brace for Hard Landing

Yep, that’s you landing ass-first.

Okay, enough is enough, powers that be. It started after reading CJ Walley’s “Amazon Studios; A Warning to All Screen Writers.” That was followed by “Amazon Is Punishing Authors for Running BookBub Promotions.” (I’d link to the article, but the link has been cut. No, I’m not  kidding.) Yet the pièce de résistance came when I learned from Andrew Liptak that Goodreads is changing its giveaways program, making it harder for readers to discover indie books.”

Consumers will know and love Amazon for its ridiculously low prices and crazy delivery times. Writers – and the publishing world as a whole – will know Amazon for the bully it is. I suppose the easy argument here is that you don’t become the juggernaut Amazon has become by playing nice. Just as every person on a reality TV show has been saying since “Survivor” gave the word a questionable meaning – “I didn’t come here to make friends, yo.” – so too does Amazon know that making enemies is of no real importance to them because they, like Walmart, have such a commanding market share.

But Goodreads? Come on! I’m particularly sensitive to the Goodreads Giveaways because I once benefited from it…when it was free! It was one of the few ways indie authors could promote their books to audiences they would otherwise (most likely) never reach.

For example, if not for the Giveaway, Aditi Saha (then the #1 Book Reviewer at Goodreads, now #7) would never have read my first novel, A Father’s Son, and I would never have had the chance to make her acquaintance and be honoured with a five-star review.

Was it not enough that I, as the author running the Giveaway, had to pay $40 in  shipping (plus the cost of the book) to get Aditi a free copy to her home in India? I guess not. Now Goodreads wants to charge a hefty price (see above article for details), and an even heftier price if you want premium “shelf space” on their Giveaway page.

Really, this just seems like overkill on an industry that barely survives as it is. With Amazon’s apparent attack on BookBub, its alleged viciousness with screen writers on Amazon Studios, and now Goodreads effectively saying that if you want to reach a global audience, you’re going to pay through the nose (which will already be bruised, battered and bleeding), it’s going to be tougher than ever for indie authors to reach people outside their immediate friends/family/market, let alone make a few bucks along the way.

A sad day, really.

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Goodreads Choice Awards 2017

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One more list to include with my post from a couple of days ago, “‘Top’ Books of 2017,” and that’s the best books of 2017 as chosen by real readers (not the fake, imaginary ones).

What’s great about this list is that it’s got every conceivable category, from YA fiction, fantasy and picture books to fiction, science & technology and cookbooks.

Click here to see the full list on Goodreads.

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You Can Judge A Man by His Book Covers

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“No, seriously, Ernie, what’s the book really about?”

Okay, this is pretty freaking funny. Helena Fitzgerald (love her self-description: “non-fiction, fiction, public crying. blah blah internet. taller in person“) has her finger on the pulse of literature. She’s also penned a fantastic piece in @ElectricLit titled “20 Authors I Don’t Have to Read Because I’ve Dated Men for 16 Years: If you’ve spent enough time around dudes, you’ve BASICALLY read these.

My only critique would be that the list is missing F. Scott Fitzgerald and that I’d put Jonathan Safran Foer on the opposite list: “20 Authors I Don’t Have to Read Because I’ve Dated Women for 16 Years.”

Aside from that one tiny blemish, the above piece is literary/dating gold.

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“Top” Books of 2017 (Christmas Presents for Bookies)

 

Well, it’s that time of the year again. Time for Timer? Nope. Time for the “top” books of the year as chosen by random people, book buyers and famous newspapers. I’d like to offer my two pennies of insight here, but I only read a single book published in 2017, so I’m pretty much useless. Many and much apologies.

What I can do for you, however, is shorten the process of tracking down this past year’s “best” books. (I know, I know. Lots of italics.) Why are they the BEST! books of 2017? Opinion. Nothing more, nothing less.

That said (and in case you’re shopping for Christmas books for the bookies in your life), The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas seems to top a few lists and enjoys an unheard-of rating on Goodreads, topping out at 4.6 (for more than 1,000 reviews). The Power by Naomi Alderman also seems to be riding high on several lists.

Here’s the Indigo list for 2017. Here’s the Amazon bestseller list for 2017. Here’s The New York Times list for 2017. And, apropos of the image I used for this post, here’s the Los Angeles Times best fiction list for 2017.

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What’s Your Story? Short Prose & Poetry Competition

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If you’ve got two pages of poetry or 1,300-1,500 words of prose (and qualify as a resident of Toronto), get ready to submit!

The Ontario Book Publishers Organization is pleased to announce that submissions are being accepted until January 15, 2018 for the What’s Your Story? Short Prose and Poetry Competition for Emerging Writers.

This writing competition is part of What’s Your Story?, a series of events that celebrates the literary communities in four different community hubs: Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, and East Toronto. In the spring of 2018, literary events will be held in each of these neighbourhoods featuring two winning emerging authors and their works (along with two established writers). There will be a total of eight winning emerging authors and eight winning established authors who have written works inspired by one of the four community hubs: Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, and East Toronto. Short prose submissions must be between 1,300 and 1,500 words and poetry submissions must be a maximum of two pages.

Click here to learn how to submit your story for this contest.

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Can We Believe Anything We Read?

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In a piece for the Huffington Post titled “Why Does Goodreads Tout Fake Quotes?” Lev Raphael takes aim at the most popular George Eliot quotation on the site:

It is never too late to be what you might have been.

According to Mr. Raphael, and apparently verified (or not, as seems to be the fact in this case) by more rigorously fact-checking people/sites, George Eliot never said or wrote this statement. Per the article:

“I poked around the Internet, and though it’s inescapable, there’s no attribution whatsoever. Nobody who knew her records it as a comment she made; it’s not something she wrote in her diary; and it doesn’t appear anywhere in her published work or letters.”

Now, I’m not personally blaming Goodreads – the site must have more than a million quotes listed on its site, if even a cursory glance is anything to go on – but in an age of “alternative facts,” it certainly does raise an interesting question: If educators have been scouring Wikipedia since the site’s launch in 2001 to check for glaring cases of plagiarism on the part of students, do we as readers/Internet users need to be equally as vigilant when referring to well-established (and generally trustworthy) books/websites?

I suppose the easy answer is yes. Of course you should. But that’s when things get murky and discombobulated and confusing and weirdly weird. If Penguin Classics publishes Aristotle’s Poetics, am I supposed to email the director of the non-existent Museum of Aristotle in Athens and have him or her confirm the authenticity of said statements?

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It’s all Greek to me?

That might prove futile, because as our good friends at Wikipedia point out:

The extant works of Aristotle are broken down according to the five categories in the Corpus Aristotelicum. Not all of these works are considered genuine, but differ with respect to their connection to Aristotle, his associates and his views. Some are regarded by most scholars as products of Aristotle’s “school” and compiled under his direction or supervision.

Hmm. Now we’re really in a jar of pickled pickle brine. Really, if we can’t trust Penguin to be quoting Aristotle, who on earth is safe to be quoting? Perhaps the answer is not as easy as we once thought, and at the very least we can thank Kellyanne Conway for one thing: putting this debate square in the cross hairs of public debate.

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It’s Not Alright (But It’s Okay)

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The subtleties of language. They count. Big time. In a similar way, anyone who thinks that math doesn’t matter, I refer you to How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg, who explains ever-so eloquently the ways in which math permeates our everyday lives – in a cool and very necessary way.

When it comes to everyday language, however, I’d refer you to a piece by Jon Westenberg, who’s got something important to say about the matter, specifically, “Stop telling each other it’s alright. Sometimes, it’s just not.”

The moral of his story can be summed up as follows:

If your startup fails? It’s not alright. But you can get through it.

If your freelance career bombs? It’s not alright. But you can get through it.

If your relationship comes to an end? It’s not alright. But you can get through it.

If your dreams burn out? It’s not alright.

But you can get through it.

It’s straightforward, simple, and to the point. Me likes, in the same way that Robert Fulghum writes about stuff in From Beginning to End.

Unfortunately for those of us living in North America, and who use English as a first language, we’ve become knee-jerk mollycoddlers. You didn’t finish the race? You failed at your attempt to make toast? Your manager doesn’t like you because you’re too nice? That’s okay. You tried your bestest! Here’s a Last Place ribbon to hang on the wall.

For me, the interesting part about this article by Mr. Westenberg has to do with language. Any douchebag can pick up a few swear words in a foreign language, but one of the hardest things to do – naturally and politely – is to learn the right words and expressions in times of great distress or hardship.

And one of the biggest pitfalls second-language learners make is to ask their teacher/friend/native speaker of said language, “How do you say [insert word/phrase from English] in [insert language]?” Instead, you should be asking, “What would you say in [insert language] in this situation?” The difference may seem subtle, but then so is language.

Another complication lies with culture. If you’re learning Arabic online in Des Moines, Iowa through Rosetta Stone, for example, what makes you think Arabic speakers in Egypt say the same thing in the same situation as they do in Iraq?

But, as usual, I’ve digressed. Jon Westenberg was not writing a linguistic analysis of English speakers in Australia, he was merely pointing out that sometimes the truth – as hard as it is to hear – can go much further to helping someone in their time of need than mollycoddling (love that word) a person who’s struggling through a rough time. There are simply occasions when “I’m really sorry. That sucks. It’s not alright.” can do more to help restore one’s bruised ego than any flowery words or feel-good idioms.

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Quote of the Day

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“But what is certain is that in five, ten or twenty years, this problem unique to our time, according to him, will no longer exist, it will be replaced by others…Yet this music, the sound of this rain on the windows, the great mournful creaking of the cedar tree in the garden outside, this moment, so tender, so strange in the middle of war, this will never change, not this, this is forever.”

Irène NémirovskySuite française

“The French Suite” is a special book for a few reasons. To begin, Irène Némirovsky wrote a beautiful story set in France during the Second World War. Second, her prose is eloquent, as can be evidenced from the above QOTD. Third, we’ll never know the “real” ending, as Némirovsky only completed two of the five stories planned for this novel before she was rounded up by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, where she was murdered. Fourth, by some miracle of you know who, “The notebook containing the two novels was preserved by her daughters but not examined until 1998. They were published in a single volume entitled Suite française in 2004.

I wrote about another brilliant work that survived a totalitarian regime through samizdat, The Master and Margarita, but there’s yet another book I read that somehow squeaked out from under intolerant noses, Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. Per the Wiki entry on the book:

Life and Fate, the sequel to For a Just Cause, was written in the aftermath of Stalin’s death. Grossman submitted it around October 1960 for potential publication to the Znamya magazine. At this point, the KGB raided his apartment. The manuscripts, carbon copies and notebooks, as well as the typists’ copies and even the typewriter ribbons were seized.

In 1974, a friend and a prominent poet Semyon Lipkin got one of the surviving copies put onto microfilm and smuggled it out of the country with the help of satirical writer Vladimir Voinovich and nuclear scientist Andrei Sakharov. Grossman died in 1964, never having seen his book published, which did not happen in the West until 1980.

It would seem that in these cases there is much truth to the idiom The pen is mightier than the sword.

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