Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label writing. Show all posts

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Stone Age short story

In a recent issue of The New Yorker, Simon Rich offers us a delightful tale, set in the Stone Age, about love, art and professional activities such as rock throwing. The writing is elementary, because language itself was still in an undeveloped state in those distant days. Even given names were in scarce supply, which explains why several different characters in the story are named Oog.

Click here to access this charming 4-page prehistoric story, whose simple title is I Love Girl.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Published by an aggregator

A few weeks ago, I'd never even heard of this newfangled word "aggregator". It sounds like a good chemical name for the kind of product that thickens soups and sauces (such as potato starch, which I use constantly). Apparently, modern usage has hit upon this excellent term to designate websites that bring together, for a specific reason, data from a multiplicity of other Internet sources. For example, Apple is using this word to designate a handful of selected websites whose role consists of channeling in all kinds of budding authors who would like to see their work published as iBooks to be read on the iPad. Today, in the case of my novel All the Earth is Mine, I find myself collaborating with such an aggregator… whose name has an American sledgehammer charm:

I wrote the final version of my novel using the sturdy Pages word-processing tool… which doesn't do much, but does it well. (That's the same friendly software I use for my genealogical monographs.) I tried vainly for years years to find an Anglo-American publishing house or literary agency that would deign to read my novel. I still don't understand why these tentatives were doomed to failure (it had nothing to do with the quality of my writing, which nobody ever got around to examining), but I've noticed that there's some kind of a Berlin Wall between the Anglo-American book-publishing world and our homely French maisons d'édition (publishing houses). For example, as recently as yesterday, I was amazed and furious to discover that it's impossible for a French resident such as me to buy Apple iBooks from England or America. Once again, I don't understand why… but it surely has something to do with a book-based cultural conflict between the New World and France. In any case, in the context of such a crazy war, I have no intention of enlisting as a soldier and donning proudly a uniform, as I would surely be mowed down stupidly in the trenches by the first blast of shrapnel.

I finally decided that so-called electronic self-publishing might be the best (indeed, only) approach for getting my novel into print. Last year, for months on end, I tried to urge readers of this blog to download (free) and evaluate a PDF version of my novel. Curiously, that tentative earned me zero feedback… which simply means, I imagine, that readers of Antipodes prefer blogs to novel, which is understandable.

At the beginning of June, I posted the following question in an Apple forum dedicated to the Pages tool:

Please point me to explanations concerning the transformation
of a Pages document (a novel) into ePub format for the iPad.

There were few reactions, and even fewer useful replies. There was even a massive dose of unadulterated twaddle from kind individuals who've made it their personal mission to reply rapidly, summarily and superficially to anything and everything that appears on the forum. [Hi Peter, Chris and Tom.] I had the impression that people who write stuff using Pages don't really intend to get themselves published. On the other hand, I became aware of the existence of a community of talented individuals (mostly women), specialists in page design and typesetting, who use the sophisticated Adobe InDesign product (which I know and adore; it's the page creator's Ferrari). But that's not really my kettle of fish. I have simple novelistic words waiting to get published. I'm not faced with the challenge of designing ads or magazine pages. So, I rapidly put a personal cross on that approach. (Do English-speaking people use that metaphor about putting a cross on something, or am I using Frenglish?)

Meanwhile, I discovered that it was not at all arduous to transform manually my novel into the celebrated Epub format fit for publication by iBooks. (The adverb "manually" doesn't really mean manually. It indicates merely that, instead of calling upon a hypothetically magic conversion tool, I carried out all the nitty-gritty conversion stuff myself, based upon my understanding of the various ePub/iBooks technical specifications, protocols and constraints… which I now master ideally.)

My attempts at creation of an ePub version of my novel were highly positive. The final product exists, and it looks good when viewed either on the Adobe simulator [download] or on a real-life iPad. Besides, I offer Antipodes readers a free copy of Earth.epub. Just give me your email address.

For the moment, I'm awaiting developments in the relationship between me and my aggregator. From an aesthetic design and typesetting point of view, the present state of my novel at Smashwords is frankly catastrophic. The book looks as if it has been typeset by a low-IQ monkey or an "intelligent " robot. Naturally, I've expressed my alarm to SmashWords. And I've volunteered to help out, if necessary. Normally, SmashWords people should know more about ePub and iBooks than I do. But the major question remains: Is SmashWords prepared to correct and beautify their ugly robotic version of my novel before (and if) they propose it to Apple? Let's see what happens…

Friday, June 11, 2010


Ever since I've been living in France, and writing in English (and also, at times, in hesitant French), I've discovered that attempts to get stuff published—either in the US or the UK (let's forget about my native Australia)—are a brick-wall affair.

Why? Well, publishing traditions in those Anglo-Saxon nations exploit exclusively the concept of literary agents. In other words, I can't simply propose a typescript to such-and-such a publishing house. I first have to find a literary agency, and it becomes their job to look for a publisher. Fair enough. Well then, why don't I simply link my existence as an English-language writer (residing in France) to such-and-such a US or UK literary agent? That's a good question. The truth of the matter is that I've never succeeded in convincing any serious US or UK literary agent that it might be worthwhile establishing a professional contact with me. Why not? Well, I don't know… apart from saying that they all reply that they're not interested, without taking the slightest look at anything that I've written (apart from my inquiry letter). I have the impression that there's some kind of credibility gap. Prospective agencies look at my address, "overseas", "on the European Continent", and they say to themselves: Shit, no… Or else I'm mistaken. Maybe they judge my literary nullity from the absence of subtle vocabulary and exotic forms of speech in my inquiry letter… I don't think so.

No, there's no doubt. We English-speaking writers residing on the European continent are living in the context of a giant English-language publishing system that has little or no place for individuals who don't reside in the "right" place, who don't pay income taxes either in the US or the UK. Needless to say, the system has litle to do with an author's writing talents.

For an English-writing European such as myself, interested in several kinds of writing (blog, novels, genealogy, local history, etc), the concept of self-publishing is a potentially exciting but subtle affair… which I'm exploring intensely, particularly in the context of electronic books. In any case, I must break out of the present stalemate.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Old phoney has finally gone

Over the last couple of decades, it was hard for a former fan such as me to believe that the goddam old guy still actually existed somewhere in flesh and blood, in a remote corner of his native land. For ages, the great US novelist J D Salinger—who happened to have been present as a soldier at Utah Beach in Normandy on D-Day—had become a recluse, who shunned contacts with the outside world.

Like countless adolescent readers throughout the planet, I was convinced that the teenager Holden Caulfield, hero of The Catcher in the Rye, was indeed my alter-ego. Fortunately, though, by the time I got around to reading this ground-breaking work of fiction, I had already left school, so my parents and former teachers escaped the unpleasant ordeal of enduring an obnoxious Caulfield imitator swaggering around and using coarse American slang. But I'm sure that younger school generations of brooding adolescent fans of Salinger filled in for me amply.

I was particularly fond of Salinger's novellas featuring the weird but wonderful siblings of the Glass family: Seymour, Buddy (the narrator), his sister Boo Boo, the twins Walt and Waker, and the two youngest children Zooey (male) and Franny (female).

Last Wednesday, when the old story-teller finally locked for the last time his secret vault of tales, it might have been a great day for Steve Jobs and his iPad, but it was definitely a bad day for Bananafish.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Happiness is a friendly computer

We computer enthusiasts are not hard to please. It's easy to make us happy. All we ask for is a friendly computer. That means, of course, a subtle bag of goodies. To start the ball rolling, the machine itself must be sufficiently powerful, reliable and easy to use. No problems at that level; I'm a Mac user. Next, the Internet connection must be fast and stable enough to make you forget that you're even linked to this planetary behemoth.

[If you're interested in following up the origins of the curious terms Behemoth and Leviathan, evoking chimeric Biblical creatures, click the painting by William Blake to access the Wikipedia article on this subject. I hasten to add that, like Bigfoot, these archaic animals are not described in The Ancestor's Tale by Richard Dawkins.]

One of the basic challenges in the quest for happiness as a computer user consists of finding the ideal software tools for the kind of work that concerns you. These days, in many everyday computing domains, the competing products are much of a muchness. For example, I've got into the habit of using the Firefox browser rather than Apple's much lauded Safari, but I wouldn't attempt to justify my choice objectively. Once upon a time, I used to think that nothing could be better than the Eudora application for email, whereas I now find that Apple's Mail tool suits me fine. Obviously, this "much of a muchness" aspect breaks down if you're reckless enough to start comparing Ferraris with aging pickup trucks. The differences between, say, the latest Mac OS and a veteran Windows system, or even a Linux thing tied together with bits of string and wire, are not purely a matter of taste and familiarity. There are objective tests for determining whether or not one solution is better (more efficient in a friendly way) than another. Above all, the "much of a muchness" judgment is no longer pertinent when Internet users are obliged to devote money and energy to protecting themselves constantly from spam and viruses, or wondering whether such-and-such a service provider is indeed delivering their emails.

The reason I'm rambling on about such things is that I wish to say a few words about one of the time-honored tools of personal computing: word processors.

Over the years, I've used many different kinds of word processors, including one that I built myself, named Irma (Intelligent Rewriting Tool for Authors), with which I produced the conference proceedings, published in 1980, entitled Videotex in Europe. For me, the most exotic wood processing software of all was surely the LaTeX system, implemented on the Macintosh as a tool named Textures. On a high-resolution laser printer, it produces truly beautiful output, like a finely-printed Bible, but it's diabolically complex. About half the author's energy and imagination are used up in determining what the printed output should look like, and only the other half in what it might contain in the way of words. That's to say, it's an esthete's toy for would-be printers. As for Microsoft Word, described in typical French invective as a "gas factory", I've always hated it. I'm convinced that it would have never become widespread were it not for the early business strategy of encouraging (or at least not discouraging) its unpaid acquisition... like distributing free cigarettes and alcohol to teenagers. One of my favorite word processors, up until it went out of existence on the Macintosh, was FrameMaker, which was a truly friendly and well-documented tool for authors. To replace it, I tried my hand at InDesign, but I've never succeeded in mastering it intuitively. Even such an elementary task as inserting half a page of text into a chapter, and moving an illustration, seem to be unnecessarily complicated, particularly when you're not using the tool on a daily basis.

So, why am I happy today? Well, I've just decided to drop InDesign for my genealogical documents and get back to Apple's nice Pages tool, which is amazingly simple to use.

It might sound trite to say so, but I'm convinced that an author who's well-equipped with friendly word processing resources (including on-line access to good dictionaries) finds it so much easier to be inspired, find ideas, and express them optimally.

Friday, February 8, 2008

All the Earth is Mine — chapter 2

The initial chapter of my novel ended with a picnic excursion to sunny Rottnest Island, whose coastline is studded with wrecks. In a casual conversation with his brother Aaron and their cousins Leah and Rachel Kahn, Jake Rose (as he is called) evoked the challenge of inventing technology that would make it possible to raise the hull of a small 19th-century wreck named the Gypsy, and cause it to float like a raft.

I've just released chapter 2 of All the Earth is Mine. Click the following button to access the novel's website:

This chapter is entitled Discovery, evoking encounters with faraway places. Leah, Rachel and Aaron set foot briefly in the European context of their grandparents. Then they travel to Israel and start to explore the Jewish homeland as tourists.

Meanwhile, in Western Australia, Jake has become involved in academic research in the geological domain. At a practical level, he has been able to count upon assistance and technological resources from the family business: a mining company called Terra. The theme of his work is related to the question that came up during the Rottnest picnic: Would it be possible to find technical means of increasing the buoyancy of a subaquatic mass, transforming it into an artificial raft?

Little by little, Aaron and the Kahn sisters are enchanted by their encounter with the Jewish nation, and contemplate the idea of investing in a small house in Jerusalem, enabling members of the family to become acquainted with the Holy Land. An unexpected event adds momentum to the idea that the Australians could well establish a permanent relationship with Israel: Aaron becomes attached to a young Israeli woman named Anne Levi.

After these two initial chapters of All the Earth is Mine, readers should be able to sense that the novel has something to do with Jake's technological research in Western Australia, and that future happenings are likely to unfold in Israel.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

All the Earth is Mine — chapter 1

I've decided to distribute my novel All the Earth is Mine through the Internet in the form of freely-downloadable PDF files, one chapter each week. In all, there are 16 chapters, so the full distribution will take several months. You can read these files directly on your computer, using a PDF tool such as Acrobat, but I think it's preferable—more comfortable from a reading viewpoint—to print them out on A4 paper, even though this will finally result in 300 printed pages.

Today, I'm releasing chapter 1 of my novel. To obtain it, click the following button, which takes you to the novel's website:

The main action of this initial chapter, entitled Origins, takes place on a magnificent antipodean island, Rottnest (which I know quite well), off the coast of Western Australia.

Readers will meet up with the hero of the novel: a student of geology and mining technology named Jacob Rose. In choosing his family name, I was no doubt influenced by my recollections of a splendid place in Jerusalem called the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden, created with funds from a US philanthropist named William Rosenburg [1899-1966]. I liked, above all, the way in which this name might be interpreted as if it were the opening words of a prophetic declaration: Jacob rose in the midst of his brethren!

Besides Jacob's brother Aaron, we meet up with their cousins Leah and Rachel Kahn. And we hear of the recent history of the Rose and Kahn ancestors who fled to Australia from Nazi-dominated Europe and went on to become prosperous industrial leaders in the mining field.

Above all, this initial chapter of All the Earth is Mine sets the maritime tone of the entire novel, which might be described in a nutshell as a fable about sailing.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Finding people through the Internet

One of my female friends back in Paris was a prolific and eclectic writer. She had decided, a long time ago, to invest in a multi-volumed copy of the Encyclopædia Britannica, and I believe that this big expensive tool played a major positive role in her work as an author.

Today, thanks to Internet tools such as Google and Wikipedia, everybody has access to a far greater encyclopedia than the Britannica. Over the last day or so, I've been in a research situation that illustrates one of the ways in which the Internet is a far more powerful source of encyclopedic knowledge than any mere printed book could ever be.

In my articles entitled First word of a poem [display] and Rilke's hermit [display], I pointed out that I've been working on the creation of a movie script based upon Rilke's novel entitled The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge. In the context of the author's fictional personages, there are references to a few dozen authentic historical individuals, some of whom are well known (for example, the French poetess Louise Labé, or the Spanish Carmelite nun Theresa of Avila), whereas others are no longer as well known today as they were back at the time when Rilke was writing his novel. I had trouble identifying two individuals, mentioned briefly by Rilke, named Anna Sophie Reventlow and Julie Reventlow. In a conventional encyclopedia, of the kind printed on paper, these individuals may not have marked their times sufficiently to earn a place in history, as it were. In the context of the Internet, using Google, individuals such as these two Reventlow ladies are often described in genealogical contexts... and that's exactly how I was able to obtain precious information about them, enabling me to understand why Rilke has brought these authentic individuals into the fictional world of his novel.

I was even able to find portraits of the two women. Furthermore, obtaining this information through the Internet enabled me to become acquainted, by email, with the man who produced the genealogical website, who is in fact a descendant of the family in question. And this was like using the Internet to unearth and enter into contact with real-life memories of Rilke's world... which is far more than what you can do with a paper encyclopedia.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Intriguing Google findings

In the domain of Googling gurus, I think my friend Natacha must be some sort of a world champion. She's constantly discovering all kinds of weird things, including stuff about myself that I wouldn't even think of looking for. Latest example. There's a Google menu indicated as more, shown here, that puts you in contact with a tool called Books:

If you type in my name, you'll find a list of published documents that refer to me in one way or another. Well, I was amazed to see that the UK subsidiary of Amazon surrounds my name by stars and stripes and considers me as the author of a book on Iran, published in 1983!

Consequently, it would be perfectly plausible for George W Bush to consult me, one of these days, as a specialist on this complex corner of the globe, before he decides to attack Iran. Meanwhile, I'm starting to understand why I used to get interrogated and searched at length by security officials during my visits to Israel, because they might have imagined me as an Iranian agent. [No, on second thoughts, that couldn't possibly be the case, because the Internet and Amazon didn't even exist back in the days when I used to visit the Holy Land.]

There's only one minor discrepancy. It ain't me who wrote a book about Iran, but rather my former friend Jean Hureau, founder of the Jeune Afrique publishing house in Paris, which once employed me to write a relatively successful book about Great Britain. But, thanks to the diligence of Google and Amazon, this erroneous information will no doubt be recorded permanently on computers for posterity.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut's peephole has closed

I mentioned the great American novelist Kurt Vonnegut in my February post with the title Watch out for life! And I quoted these opening lines from Deadeye Dick:

To the as-yet-unborn, to all innocent wisps of undifferentiated nothingness: Watch out for life. I have caught life. I have come down with life. I was a wisp of undifferentiated nothingness, and then a little peephole opened quite suddenly. Light and sound poured in. Voices began to describe me and my surroundings.

The 84-year-old writer died yesterday in Manhattan.

To me, Vonnegut's novels are like a bugged computer program. When you examine a detailed section, everything seems to be in place, and it should work fine. But when you assemble all the sections into a whole, either the global program doesn't work, or else it produces the wrong answers. For Vonnegut, the source of the bug is life itself. He was a joyous pessimist. His philosophy: If something can blow up, it will... and there'll be a great bang and fabulous fireworks. He might be described as an existentialist novelist. A great story-teller, too.