Category Archives: Guest Post

The minimalist worldbuildng of Diana Wynne-Jones

Guest blogger Jean Lee explores the world-building of Diana Wynne-Jones. The classic British children’s author was a master of creating fantasy world’s because she knew when to keep it minimal.

Learn more about the inner workings of storytelling with the Rhetoric of Story.

My grandfather adored the study of little things and how they worked. His rough but steady hands handled sheet metal in the day and models at night. I still have the windjammer he built from scrap metal, a glorious creation nearly 3ft high with metal strands for rigging and tiny port holes. He often wished he had gone into watch work. I can imagine him before a worktable covered with cogs and pins, spirals and screws, all vital to the watch’s creation.

“Any part that halts the story’s inner workings does not belong.”

Stories are very much like watches. Any character, detail, plot point—all are necessary to serve the story. When the watch has just the right number of parts, it will function. Too many will clog its workings, making it useless.

Yet it’s so tempting, isn’t it? We want readers to fully appreciate the craftsmanship. Surely they can only do that if we use every. Single. Part. So we cram it all in: the ill-sized versions that helped us find the proper fit. The duplicates, the broken. And rather than a working piece of beauty, we finish with a monstrosity of parts appreciated by no one.

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Diana Wynne Jones proves one does not need to overload a fantasy with world-building for the reader’s sake. Her fantasies for children follow people through various lands, dimensions, and times; of course the setting matters, but it only makes up a few gears in the works. Therefore, her attention to setting is limited strictly to its function within the story. For instance, Howl’s Moving Castle, one of her most well-known stories (also adapted into a film by Studio Ghibli—a marvel in its own right), begins with one of the most succinct bits of world-building one could ever hope to find.

“In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.”

One sentence in, and we already know we’re in a different country where magic is commonplace. We also get a touch of foreshadowing: why would Jones include the cog about being the eldest of three unless it matters? It does: two sentences later we learn the protagonist, Sophie Hatter, is the eldest of three daughters.

51wy1cz212lRecently I finished Drowned Ammet, the second volume in Jones’ Dalemark Quartet. Surely her epic fantasy spanning centuries would have loads more world-building, yes? Well, she does include a map. That’s different. But her sparse world-building style continues here, too. Take this first line.

“People may wonder how Mitt came to join in the Holand Sea Festival, carrying a bomb, and what he thought he was doing.”

So, we have a sea culture, and some level of technology. As the story continues, we learn there is unrest due to the extreme divide between rich and poor. Jones doesn’t take time to describe the slums, the currency, or the weapons. She gives us whatever makes sense at the time for Mitt to learn. It’s Mitt’s story. The story needs what he needs. No other parts required.

I find myself at the worktable now, parts strewn about the story’s frame. So damn small…and yet, one protagonist takes in only so much: that which she needs to complete herself. Jones has shown me that any world-building detail must serve a function in the protagonist’s experience; one cannot throw a handful of cogs in for “background,” or “context.” Any part that halts the story’s inner workings does not belong.

That is why stories such as Jones’ still run flawlessly today.

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Jean Lee has been writing all her life, from picture books in preschool to a screenplay for her Masters in Fine Arts. Nowadays she blogs about the fiction, music, and landscape that inspire her as a writer. She currently lives in Wisconsin with her husband and three children. Learn more at: http://www.jeanleesworld.com

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How Hollywood deleted the political message of Godzilla

An excellent guest post today from Jared Hill, a blogger living in Chicago who reads science fiction avidly, and who is also keen on sports and film.  Godzilla is among the most iconic film characters of the last century. But the big lizard’s meaning was radically altered by his move from Tokyo to Hollywood. In this post Jared explains how Hollywood deleted that political message. Follow Jared on Twitter @JaredHill341

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In 1954, audiences were floored with the phenomenon of Godzilla, a radioactive lizard who destroyed civilian communities in the midst of its enormous feet and ferocious roar. Since the initial introduction, Godzilla has appeared in numerous films, all in the same vein.

When the original Gojira film was produced in 1954 by Toho, Godzilla carried the symbolic weight of the Japanese political climate. As a radioactive lizard “awakened” by a bomb,  Godzilla served as an allegory for nuclear warfare and the destruction of civilian communities. The images of full hospitals, communities in flames, and utter destruction forced Japanese moviegoers to relive the trauma from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings.

godzilla_kotm_cm_frontThe film has been remade or received sequels an astounding thirty times, offering alternative projections of Godzilla and even alternative plot lines. Some of these include the edited, English version of Gojira, known as Godzilla, King of the Monsters, 1956, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep (alternatively known as Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster, 1966) and Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974). Each remake brought audiences a new twist on the original city-devastating lizard that we have welcomed so warmly into our hearts, offering a scaley science fiction revolution.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters included some significant cuts to the original, removing aspects of the movie that were less familiar to Western moviegoers such as the anti-nuclear themes as they related to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Allusions to American testing  and the dangers of radioactivity were amongst the cuts. Other alterations of the movie to make it more palatable include integrating an American newscaster into the otherwise Japanese cast, Raymond Burr, who focused on the destruction from the kaiju (monster). These changes erased the intended political purpose from Gojira, instead turning the movie into one solely about a destructive lizard. From there, Godzilla became a character for all ages to enjoy and began making appearances in various programs, including The Simpsons (on at least three different occasions) and Hellsing, where it is incorporated into the soundtrack as well as appears in several scenes. Undeterred by the Western re-culturalization of Godzilla, the original two films still have a sizable international following. Even after sixty years, regular matinees and marathons hosted on niche TV networks carried by cable providers, such as El Rey (which is available via DirecTV or  Comcast and is showing the films through January), have helped to keep the fanbase not only alive, but thriving.

A interest and resurgence of monster movies has once again sparked over the past several years. Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, when triple reactor core meltdowns and exploding containment buildings in Japan forced 15,000 to flee, Google reported a surge of interest in Godzilla and the nuclear allegories attached to it. In response, Pacific Rim, a film about monsters emerging from the sea and fighting man-made robots, was released in 2013. Although Pacific Rim featured characteristics that Western civilizations enjoyed about Godzilla – invasion by monsters from the sea, battles, and human triumph – it lacked the nuclear political echo that made Godzilla desirable. 2014 then brought Godzilla by Warner Brothers, which also lacked the nuclear warfare allegory, caving instead to cookie-cutter characters and an over dependence on visual effects.

Now, due to popular demand, Toho announced last month that they have decided to make one final Godzilla movie, Godzilla: Final Wars, expected to be released in 2016. “The time has come for Japan to make a film that will not lose to Hollywood,” Veteran producer Taichi Ueda for Toho told reporters – and I think most audiences would agree.

Can you name Arthur C. Clarke’s top 5 astounding predictions?

An excellent guest post today from Jared Hill, a blogger living in Chicago who reads science fiction avidly, and who is also keen on sports and film. Arthur C Clarke was a visionary ahead of his time, but do you agree with Jared’s picks for the great sci-fi writer’s top 5 astounding predictions? Follow Jared on Twitter @JaredHill341

“Arthur C Clarke accurately predicted the rise of the internet, and even further, online banking almost to the year.”

When famed science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke passed away in 2008, he left behind an immense and multi-faceted legacy. Clarke, alongside contemporaries such as Isaac Asimov, demonstrated that science-fiction literature can enrich public discourse about the role of technology in society. Clarke was the son of a radio operator and his early exposure to the rapidly developing field of electronics led to a preternatural ability to imagine applications for future technology. His reputation as a visionary author was so powerful that when film auteur Stanley Kubrick was looking for a screenwriter for a science fiction film in 1964, he reached out to Clarke, who was living in seclusion in Sri Lanka at the time. The script he wrote would end up becoming 2001: A Space Odyssey and it would contain some of his boldest, and most precise, predictions.

In honor of Sir Arthur C. Clarke, his most noteworthy predictions have been compiled below:

Communications Satellites

In a 1964 BBC Special entitled Horizon, Clarke enumerated his personal predictions for the world of 2000 in honor of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. In the special he stated that satellites would “make possible a world where we can be in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be” and for those of us living in the present, Clarke had no idea how correct he really was. Strangely enough, Clarke’s predictions for a global telecommunications network were spawned in 1945 by a 28-year old Clarke in an article that he wrote for Wireless World entitled “Extra-Terrestrial Relays: Can Rocket Stations Give World-Wide Radio Coverage?”, regarding the potential uses of geostationary satellites. Clarke theorized that :rocket which achieved a sufficiently great speed in flight outside the earth’s atmosphere would never return.” Once the rocket reached orbital velocity, it would become “an artificial satellite, circling the world forever with no expenditure of power — a second moon, in fact.” Bear in mind that Clarke’s paper was written well over a decade before the former U.S.S.R. sent Sputnik into orbit. Today, telecommunications satellites in geostationary orbits have made the wireless information age possible and it was theorized and predicted in its entirety by Clarke decades in advance.

The Internet

As mentioned previously, Clarke’s mother was a radio operator and in this light it becomes clear why Clarke was so intuitive regarding wireless communications, but his theories extended beyond just communications, but also to the internet as a whole. Clarke’s article on geosynchronous satellite networks helped spur interest in the subject, and NASA actually began collaborating with Howard Hughes on the Telstar project in the early sixties (which ultimately set the path for everything from satellite television broadcasts to HughesNet internet plans as we know them today). As the technology was being developed, Clarke became a mainstay on televisions shows, and when speaking to an Australian news program in 1974 he told the host that by the turn of the century, people would be able to access “all the information needed for everyday life: bank statements, theater reservations, all the information you need over the course of living in a complex modern society.” For comparison, online banking services weren’t popularized until the late 1990’s and by 2000 80% of banks offered online banking, showing that Clarke accurately predicted the rise of the internet, and even further, online banking almost to the year.

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2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke

Personal Computers

Clarke understood how quickly computers were advancing in the 1960’s and 70’s and when he made his predictions about the internet and future society, he also described much smaller computer consoles that would allow users to access infinite information. But the most salient issue he pointed out, at least in this author’s opinion, was that Clarke added that people would “take it as much for granted as we take the telephone.” Clarke envisioned a world where people would use a console at home to communicate with a computer hub, of one kind or another, that would relay pertinent information back to them. Clarke had correctly anticipated that ultimately, home computers would enable humanity to do everything from checking their bank accounts to retrieving theater reservations. Clarke had also made allusions to this concept of a connected web that the whole of civilization was tapped into in his book Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible, when he talks about generations far into the future as “our remote descendants as living in isolated cells, scarcely ever leaving them, but being able to establish instant TV contact with anyone, anywhere else on Earth.”

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The iPad

Following Samsung’s entrance into the touchscreen and tablet arena, Apple furiously pursued their alleged copyright infringements as Steve Jobs had submitted dozens of patents involving the iPhone’s technology. In a desperate move, Samsung cited the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey’s “Newspads” as proof that the design was not originally Apple’s. Clarke’s “Newspads” are practically identical to the popular Apple devices and smartphones and tablets have become fixations in practically the exact same way they were depicted in the film. There was a passage from the 2001 novel that may even cause you to look at iPads in a more whimsical way: “Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word “newspaper,” of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics).”

“men will no longer commute, they will communicate”

Telecommuting

Clarke made several outlandish and inaccurate predictions including bio-engineered ape servants and the dissolution of cities, but the mechanism that Clarke believed would hasten the fall of urban areas did come true: telecommuting. In his 1964 World’s Fair television special, he predicted that by 2000, “men will no longer commute, they will communicate” and that a person could “conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London”. Clarke said that telecommuting would ultimately prove to be a “wonderful thing,” if only in that it meant that people “won’t have to be stuck in cities,” and they’d be able to live “out in the country” or wherever they want. Anyone in international business will attest that telecommuting and videoconferencing has saved countless hours of travel and agony as well as millions of dollars and that it is almost exactly as Clarke described.

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What do authors really look like?

A new guest post today from Ferdinand Page asks what, exactly, authors look like? Ferdinand lurked around doing everything to books except write them until the writer’s digestive tract kicked in. An urban fantasy, scripts and short stories are now poised, waiting to re-write the world. Read Ferdinand’s blog and follow @ferdinandpage

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What do authors look really like? Countless moodily-lit faces, arranged against a background of bookshelves or graffitied brickwork, have failed to convince the public that they are looking at somebody who writes for a living. Or doesn’t. Authors’ photos are the tip of the iceberg. The problem is capturing what makes a writer a writer, and not just somebody in need of a makeover.

The only accurate visual representation of an author appeared in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the eighties. Krang, one of the best, and certainly the grossest character to emerge from TMNT is, in every way that matters, a writer. From the midriff of his robotic body, the disembodied brain of Krang peers at the world from its sealed capsule. Krang’s urges, the standard-issue drive of evil alien warlords everywhere, are to emerge into a world reconstructed in his own image.

In eerie replication, the writer takes the raw stuff of real life and turns it into stories. The writer’s brain is located, not in the head as commonly assumed, but in the stomach. Writing is, a digestive rather than an intellectual process, peering out at the world it will re-make according to the perceptions and capacities of each individual imagination.

We are doomed to turn everything around us into story, however well or badly we write it down. Writing is a skill but the urge to write is driven by an alien digestion. J. G. Ballard coupled skill with a powerful imagination that took the disturbing reality of his experience and made it even more disturbing. Interviewed by Thomas Frick for The Paris Review, Ballard identified why writing is so essential to our proper digestion of life.

“I take for granted that for the imaginative writer, the exercise of the imagination is part of the basic process of coping with reality … I know that if I don’t write, say on holiday, I begin to feel unsettled and uneasy, as I gather people do who are not allowed to dream.”

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Empire of the Sun by J G Ballard

When I re-started my writer’s stomach recently, I was surprised at the demands of this dream-digestion process. In a small but Damascene moment on the Northern Line, I had the choice to write down a plot resolution or check I was on the right line. The writer’s stomach won. It took 40 minutes to get to where I should’ve been.

Fortunately we’re not looking for world domination, although a bigger share of the readership would be nice. But the process of the writer’s dream-digestion is powerful, and it doesn’t show on the outside. As Thomas Frick describes visiting Ballard in Shepperton:

“… It is inevitably rather droll to come upon the man himself … two shiny silver palm trees, bending amiably over a reclining aluminium lawn chair, inject the only note of fantasy into an otherwise quite normal-looking household.”

The outside of a writer, how they appear to the human eye, tells you little or nothing about their interior world. The silver palm trees don’t tell you about the writer’s alien digestive tract. They don’t tell you

we are Krang.

 

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What is the relationship between artists and depression?

The skilled and thoughtful William Gosline returns for a second guest post. The news of Robin Williams’ suicide has sparked an ongoing conversation about depression and mental ill-health among artists and other creatives. In a nuanced post Gosline reaches beyond the simple correlation between creativity and depression, to reflect on the real and complex relationship between the two.

Read William Gosline’s serial fiction Jury Selection at the author’s blog.

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A week has passed since the world lost one of its best and brightest. Robin Williams took his own life. The Internet has writhed conjecture, as is its nature, but perhaps as a sign of its maturation, the overarching tone is one of loss and sadness. Eulogies as memes abound. Because who amongst us hasn’t felt the heavy hand of depression, either within a loved one or ourselves? Robin Williams’ passing epitomizes one of humanity’s great contradictions: that the most gifted and giving of us are often the most tortured.

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Ernest Hemingway

Artists are especially susceptible. Depression, madness and suicide recur elliptically in the lives of our great creators. Spalding Gray, after watching Tim Burton’s Big Fish of all movies, drowned himself in the river. Sylvia Plath put her head in an oven. Ernest Hemingway, stripped in his dotage of his trademark virility, took matters into his own hands.

But what is the connection between vision and psychosis, between depression and creativity? By rights, Picasso should have been mad: he worked in four dimensions. Dali, with his wild eyes and curled mustache, only pretended to be mad and when asked to play a truly mad man, the Emperor in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s never realized Dune epic, sanely declared he would–for the sum of $100,000 an hour. A cynical nod to the shrewd megalomania of Hollywood and a point in fact: his madness was self-promotion.

“alienation, while important to the formation of the writer, is not necessarily a prerequisite to insanity or depression.”

Van Gogh, on the other hand, painted the commonplace, pastoral world in which he lived. Dali and Picasso consciously manipulated reality, its tropes and dimensions. Van Gogh, for all the effulgence of his art, the broad strokes and bold colors, painted what he saw. Yet, it was he who lost the battle. Perhaps then in contemplation of his craft, we can get a bit closer to the crux of the question: what is the relationship between the artist and depression or madness.

In the course of doing research for a character based off of Jack Kerouac, I pieced together an extremely rough sketch of the famous Beat writer. I read some of his work but also found the ancillary scholarship on him just as illuminating. Of French Canadian extract, he was a quasi second-language speaker whose first language, Quebec French, was dismissed as nothing more than a backwoods colloquial dialect. Like many writers, he was astride two worlds, at home in neither. But such alienation, while important to the formation of the writer, is not necessarily a prerequisite to insanity or depression.

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Salavdor Dali was mad but mad north-north-west. When the wind was Southerly, he knew to ask Hollywood for a big pay cheque.

Of more value is a consideration of the method by which he worked. The manuscript of On the Road is almost as famous as the book itself: one long scroll that he pounded away at over the course of a few weeks, literally churning it out of the typewriter. It is here that we might begin to discern a connection, in the spontaneous, feverish “channeling” of Kerouac’s recollections. In fact, in the preface to his collected letters, the editor mentions the perils of spontaneous writing. Kerouac, like Gene Wolfe’s famous character Severian the Torturer, was doomed to forget nothing. The avalanche of memory crushed him and towards the end, even the solitary heights of Big Sur, an aerie to which he had oft retreated for silence and solace, couldn’t save him.

But if Kerouac was powerless before memory, exhuming it in frenzied streams, others are powerless before sensation. Van Gogh was evidently that and in the world of literature, his match might be the forgotten Swiss writer, Robert Walser. Robert Walser, like Van Gogh and Kerouac, was the passive observer. In an essay by William Gass, his anonymous narrators are described as “will-less wanderers, impotent observers of life, passive perceivers of action and passion.” As Walser drew nearer to the asylum where he would live out the rest of his life, his writing became increasingly disjointed and impressionistic, the nebbish narrator flitting from field to café, from cobbled street to farm, like a drift of cloud.

I believe that Robin Williams held something in common with these artists. His improvisation was explosive: machine-gun one-liners uttered at the speed of thought; impersonations rattled off in a bricolage of association. His performances were gut busting, hilarious, his ability to transition from idea to idea, mind-boggling. But in light of recent events, there is also something troubling in the frenzy of his delivery. As though, through frantic incantation like a Catholic priest or a mystic, he could stay just one step ahead of his ghosts.

I have ventured too far down the path of conjecture. The truth is I was as shocked and dismayed by his death as everyone else. My rambling is just an effort to make some sense of it, to furrow some parameters around depression and its relationship to the artist as a means of self-preservation. Because Robin Williams had fooled us all, with his broad smile and kind eyes. Here is a man, we thought, who has attained peace despite his tribulations. But his suicide is an object lesson for us of how easy it is to mistake someone who has come to terms with their demons with someone who has succumbed to them.

Can excellence survive in the era of digital publishing?

Excellence isn’t a word often heard in the world of digital self-publishing, where Good Enough has more force when backed up with six-figure sales. In a smart essay William Gosline asks and answers the question; can excellence survive in the digital era? Gosline is a talented writer of speculative fiction, currently writing a fascinating serial fiction Jury Selection. I get the feeling you’ll be hearing more of him.

Answer The Question is my regular slot for guest posts, you can get details on how to contribute here.

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What do Charles Bukowski and William Gass not have in common?

Charles Bukowski and William Gass are not usually mentioned in the same breath. They do share some similarities, however. Both were raised in abusive households – not the same one, of course; their generation was one rife with domestic abuse. Both turned to writing to make sense their father’s rage, their mother’s disaffection. Finally, most who know their work would agree that they are serious writers, if not literary figures. Bukowski had become a legend before his death, loved by celebrities and the workingman alike. Gass, on the other hand, is still trucking along at the age of ninety, happily peripheral but well regarded in certain circles.

“No aspect of writing can inspire as much ire as Form.”

But there is also a fault line between the two that, like most fault lines, is at once minute and significant: the question of Form.

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Hero of the working man – Charles Bukowski

No aspect of writing can inspire as much ire as Form. For some, like Gass, it’s the pinnacle of craft. For others, it’s a dirty word: form is what “educated” writers rant about, what college courses study, what critics praise. In short, Form is for the elite. For the pulp novelist, the digital self-publisher, the everyman who hit it big with a thriller written at midnight, the proof is in the pudding—and the checks they brag about: Readers want story.

In William Gass’ titular essay from the collection Finding a Form, he lists the problems of popular fiction: subject matter that quickly becomes irrelevant; twist-endings that forestall revisiting; posturing from a belief system that will someday become obsolete.

“The problem [of fiction] was how to achieve a lasting excellence — that is, it was a problem of form.”
 And it is the quest for lasting that leads writers like Gass to think first and foremost of Form.

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Man in the ivory tower – William H. Gass

For the Methodologist — as he calls his caste of writer — every word enlists the ghosts beneath and behind it. Strung together and multiplied, they, like the tip of the iceberg, evoke metaphor and meaning within the subconscious of the “free reader”. Form, then, is what lasts when all else has been swept away.

Bukowski was famously mean in words — in both senses. Here, on the other hand, is what he had to say about Form:

“As the spirit wanes the form appears.”

Let’s agree to disagree.

In the 21st century, literature—like the publishing industry that represents it—is in a state of disruption. Words no longer carry weight nor have the depth of meaning they once did. The novel, that giant wounded whale, is being pecked at by smaller, swifter predators. In the digital universe, entire idioms are created and rendered to dust over night, misspellings and grammatical errors replicated.

Writing that both Gass and Bukowski would consider mediocre at best is out there, proliferating with the speed of a million typing fingers. With social media, writers are no longer at the mercy of their critics. The doors have been flung open. The barbarians have arrived at the gate. Those in the Ivory Tower shake with fear, along with their shuddering edifice.

The question becomes, can the goal of William Gass “to achieve a lasting excellence” survive the digital publishing revolution, or will his efforts be run over, like a desert tortoise in an Arizona suburb — places also hastily erected in a bubble of confidence?

In short: can the lasting excellence that Form strives for survive in the Digital Era?

Where are my international Amazon Associate commissions?

Many book bloggers and even writers earn commission from Amazon by linking to books and other products sold by the giant online retailer. But many of them are leaving money on the table by not directing their international readers to the right international Amazon store! Jesse Lakes of GeoRiot steps up with a great guest post which shows the problem and offers some handy solutions. Answer The Question is my regular slot for guest posts, you can get details on how to contribute here.

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Where are my international Amazon Associates commissions?

Marketing products online has many mysteries – few of which are easily solved. However, without a crystal ball it’s nearly impossible to know the answers, so you may be missing the “thing” that crumbles your efforts or propels them into the stratosphere. 

If you use affiliate links from the Amazon Associates Program you have likely come across one of the many questions GeoRiot got a little obsessed with – “Where are my International Amazon Associates commissions?” Fortunately, we have our own crystal ball of sorts, and are happy to share our findings.

The Answer

It turns out that most marketers fail to consider their international audience when promoting items, using something we call “raw links.” Raw links are ones that only go to a single destination (such as amazon.com). Users who normally purchase in other stores (amazon.co.uk, amazon.de, or one of the other 11 international Amazon stores) are often inconvenienced due to language, currency, shipping, or account barriers and likely won’t buy anything.

Think about it, if you were in LA, would you buy something from Germany if it were also available on Amazon.com (with Prime!)?

Probably not.

However, sending international visitors to their local version of Amazon is only half of the answer. The second half stems around using storefront specific Associates Programs. Of those 13 total Amazon storefronts, 11 have separate Amazon Associates Programs (Mexico and Australia don’t have one – yet), and commissions can only be earned when the Associates ID comes from that Amazon store’s Associates Program.

For example, a German visitor should be sent to Amazon.de using a tracking ID from the Amazon PartnerNet (the German version of the Associates Program) while a Canadian visitor goes to Amazon.ca with the Canadian version of the Amazon Associates Program to get credit for that sale.

To sum it up, this means that not only do you need a link that sends a visitor to their local Amazon store for the product you are promoting but you’ll also need to affiliate it with the tracking ID from that same Amazon Associates Program.

Great!  …So then how do you manage to send users to the right store, with the right ID attached for each individual click?

The Solution

Some marketers add separate links for each of the Amazon stores for each product you are recommending, or create different geo-targeted versions of your site for each segment of your visitors, but those solutions can be cumbersome for your audience and time intensive to maintain.

Alternatively, you could check out a “Link Management” service (such as GeoRiot) designed to tackle exactly these types of problems automagically.

When researching be sure that your solution not only “localizes” (changes the domain of the URL to the correct store), but also “translates” (finds the same product in a foreign storefront even when the ID changes) for every click.  This provides the best experience possible for every user, leading to a higher chance of a conversion, and makes you a happy marketer.

Now that you’ve stared deeply into our crystal ball, hopefully that helps explain one of affiliate marketing’s greatest mysteries. With the extra money you earn from international commissions, you can hire someone to solve the rest. Happy linking.

A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay – THE REVIEW

I wasn’t surprised by the existence of a book called A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay in the world. Or it’s painfully high sales ranking on Amazon. At only 15 pages, Hunter Fox’s story of dinosaur homosexuality may be, word for word, the most profitable piece of writing of the year. But I did wonder, aloud on Twitter, why it was so successful. I should not have been surprised to be sent an intelligent answer.

Phronk writes odd speculative fiction, such as his first novel, Stars and Other Monsters: The Last Vampire Novel. He writes a lot of odd things, actually. He wrote a PhD dissertation about the psychology of horror films. He gets paid to write about technology and abuse words like “synergy,” “leverage,” and “utilize.” Buy enough of his novels and he’ll stop inflicting that on the world. He also wrote Baboon Fart Story, an experiment in publishing. John Scalzi sarcastically called it “arguably the highest achievement of humanity.” That blog, Putting Weird Things in Coffee, about putting weird things in coffee? That is also written by Phronk. As is Phronk.com, strangely enough.

“it seems like there might be an important message about race and economic inequality hidden in this story about financially-savvy dinosaurs taking over the world”

I HAVE no idea what kind of dinosaur the billionaire is in Hunter Fox’s short story A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay. Other works of cryptozoological erotic literature, such as Christie Sims’ Taken by the T-Rex, explore the logistical challenges of initiating and carrying out sexual relations with a dinosaur. Fox, however, takes a more minimalist approach. All that matters is that the billionaire is gay for humans; it’s almost incidental that he is also a vaguely greenish-purple thing with claws.

The helicopter pilot is definitely a pterodactyl though.

Fox describes himself as “growing into an experienced novelist,” despite none of his stories being over 15 pages long. His confusion with the word “novel” extends to many other words as well. He uses commas like they’re going extinct, and seems to find the most awkward way to word a sentence before committing it to e-paper. Observe:

“I grabbed his cock with my hands and began rubbing it in circles while I sucked on his shaft.”

I picture some kind of “pat your head while rubbing your tummy” thing going on here, but I’m really not sure what is supposed to be happening.

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Perhaps the writing can be forgiven if there is an underlying meaning to it all. Indeed, it seems like there might be an important message about race and economic inequality hidden in this story about financially-savvy dinosaurs taking over the world. We learn early on that the main character, John, has a father who is a bigot and can’t tolerate dinosaurs in positions of power. However, if we follow the real-world analogue too far, it gets very questionable very quickly. The billionaire dinosaur is just as bigoted (“how do you think we as a species have risen so quickly to the top?” he asks rhetorically, apparently referring to all dinosaurs as a species), and John later comes to agree with his intolerant father. Awkward.

So I’ll be clear: A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay has no intrinsic redeeming qualities. It is horribly written, morally questionable, and even the sex in it seems like an afterthought.

But there’s something appealing about all this, isn’t there?

The title alone is delightful, tapping into deep-seated cynicism about post-50-Shades erotica and today’s publishing industry. Its unjustifiably high Amazon ranking delights and frustrates traditional authors and self-published authors alike. And the horrid writing only underscores how ridiculous it is that this bizarre artifact even exists.

There is an underlying meaning to it all, but it lies in the reactions to the book rather than the book itself. Just look at the reviews, which are more enjoyable to read than the story, but could not have existed without the story having been written. The mere fact that it is successful has meaning and appeal. It’s the Kardashian of crappy erotica.

I found a similar extraction of delight from the terrible when I wrote Baboon Fart Story (a novel consisting of the word “fart” printed 100,000 times), and saw its own hilarious reviews. My pal Leonard Delaney taps into it with his “erotica by a virgin” series. There are many other examples, and I dig deeper into the ironic enjoyment of crappy things over on my blog.

A Billionaire Dinosaur Forced Me Gay probably isn’t worth three bucks to the average person, but its existence is a wonderful, and maybe even important, thing. Let’s mock it, sure, but we’re getting enjoyment out of that mockery, so if the point of a book is to entertain, Hunter Fox has done an admirable job.

Could you go one week without the internet?

A guest post in a series form students on the BA Creative and Professional Writing at Nottingham University.

A friend texts me an invite for coffee, but spends the next two hours continuously checking her phone. She isn’t receiving calls or emails from work – she’s refreshing her Facebook live feed. I ask her why she bothered to invite me out if she can’t pull herself away from cyberspace. She snaps back, ‘it’s only Facebook!’

We are a generation defined by our internet usage. 24/7 connectivity to the world, thanks to wi-fi and 3G, allows us to stay on top of our emails, friends’ holidays, twitter timelines, and tumblr memes.

It’s normal to carry a phone around with you. We stay in touch with family and friends throughout the day, arranging and re-arranging, updating. But is there a point of no return?

We rely on the internet for everything – news, conversation, shopping.

So could you push through a single week without access to the internet? You wake up in the morning and you don’t check BBC news. You can’t even go to Facebook’s main page. Twitter is off-limits. So is Eat Student (if you want a takeaway, better take a stroll down to the actual place itself!), eBay (no more staying up til 3am waiting for bids to end), and Reddit. You wander through the day without ‘liking’ anyone’s status, retweeting those oh-so-witty one-liners, or posting pictures on Instagram.

Is our ever-growing dependence on the internet becoming a problem? Maybe not on the surface. But multiple studies have proven that Internet Addiction Disorder is a real thing – this is nothing new. But are we taking it as seriously as we should? Internet users experience “withdrawal” symptoms similar to those of drug users – shakiness, anxiety, a general desire to throw their televisions out the window. I tried to go one week without internet access in 2011 – and broke after three days, because I “needed” some new music to listen to. I haven’t tried since.

Could you ignore your emails for a week, or disable your Facebook for one month? Would you cry without your daily dose of cute cats on Youtube? Could you abandon 4oD and go back to TV programmes with adverts?

One day? One week? One month?

And if you can’t do it… well, neither can I. So, I guess we’re all addicts.

Not knitting but blogging

Are older generation writers missing out on the power of social media to further their work?

GUEST POST : Carolyn Doudge is a late-comer to fiction writing. She is currently studying for a degree in Creative and Professional Writing at Nottingham University.

You would think that upwards of half a life-time hanging out on the planet would count for something when it comes to creative writing. Most of us oldies have been places, met people, had stuff happen that would fill volumes. Our pasts inspire our plots and colour our characters. But this advantage may be wiped out if we are not up to speed with social media.

We write for imaginary audiences and want our writing to reach people, not sit in a black hole waiting to be discovered. This is where it all falls down and we find ourselves on an uneven playing field alongside younger writers.
As a newcomer to fiction writing, I am beginning to accept that to create shock and awe, or even mild stirrings of interest on the literary scene, I must overcome my reluctance to engage with social media in general and blogging in particular. I must get ‘out there’, wherever that may be.

I came to this conclusion while stumbling around the internet. American author and super-blogger, Ollin Morales sums up the prevailing wisdom, ‘If you hate blogging you should really reconsider being a writer.’

Time to examine my reluctance.

‘Blog’ is such an ugly, off-putting word. Je blogue, tu blogues, nous bloguons. It’s even more an affront to the French language than English. Without wishing to insult the Germans, I can’t help feeling ‘bloggen’ sounds more at home in their language. But like it or not, the world is stuck with it.

It seems weird sharing personal updates and opinions with an anonymous, disembodied audience located in Nowhere-in-Particular. How could something as crazy ever take off? But as I watch younger folk with their obsessive-compulsive checking and tapping at screens, I suspect I may be missing out big time on the vast global ebb and flow of information, maybe gems among the trivia. I am disabled, disenfranchised.

A few taps and clicks give us an instant global voice, but if we are neither celebrities nor experts in a particular field, it seems arrogant to assume the world will be listening. And what if we stray into controversial territory and trolls pop up from beneath the rickety-rackety cyber-platform? Do we really need the aggravation?

Those who grew up in a pre-digital age often lack know-how around computers and electronic gadgets. How many of us have explored the full potential of our TV remotes? How many use mobiles for anything beyond phoning or texting? We are bewildered in the world of widgets and plugins and apps that make possible things we never knew we wanted. We call children to fix problems – digital natives to the aid of digital aliens. The knowledge and skills are not beyond us. What we lack are interest and impetus. Keeping up with technology has never reached the top of our priorities. As a result, a whole raft of older generation writers may be missing out on the huge potential of social media to further their work.

It is no longer enough to just write. Platform wins over content. We must join the connecting classes or perish into obscurity. Cyberland awaits. No good dithering at the boarding gates. Upload, preview and publish – three steps to blogging bliss or blogging hell. Who knows if anyone will read or react to what we have to say? Hotspur put his finger on the problem in the exchange with Glendower in Shakespeare’s Henry 1V part 1:

Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.
Hotspur: And so can I or so can any man; but will they come…?

With reckless optimism I have added ‘check blog’ to my weekly list of stuff-to-do, just in case.

Social media users – beware, the psychiatrist is watching you

Is Internet Use Disorder a 21st century mental illness?

GUEST POST : Helen Durham is a part-time undergraduate of the University of Nottingham’s BA in Creative and Professional Writing, trying to learn Mindfulness to alleviate the stress of assignment deadlines piling up http://peaceinafranticworld.wordpress.com/

The fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), used across the globe by many psychiatrists, is due out in May 2013. It is believed to include ‘Internet Use Disorder’ as a condition of addiction and social disengagement that merits further consideration. The consideration will be whether such a disorder should be included as a diagnosable condition in the next update of DSM-5.
Diagnosable conditions have implications for health and social care provision, health and social care insurance, and employability.

Back in 2008, an editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry made a case for the inclusion of Internet Addiction:

Internet addiction appears to be a common disorder that merits inclusion in DSM-V. Conceptually, the diagnosis is a compulsive-impulsive spectrum disorder that involves online and/or offline computer usage and consists of at least three subtypes: excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations, and e-mail/text messaging. All of the variants share the following four components: 1) excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives, 2) withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible, 3) tolerance, including the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use, and 4) negative repercussions, including arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.

Should we be worried about our internet usage health?

I’ve compared aspects of my life now, in this social media age, with life in the years before it became a significant part of my life. What do I do more or less of because of the time spent using social media?

Reading novels – less
Contact with acquaintances – more, but virtual
Contact with close friends – different, less frequently face to face
Chatting on the phone – much less due to texts and emails (I miss a good natter)
Dropping into people’s homes without prior arrangement – far less frequently, it’s almost becoming unimaginable
Writing words – more
Sitting – more, at the computer, with an iPad, phones etc
Watching TV – less, using social media as an alternative distraction or recreational activity
Playing a musical instrument – less
Gardening – less
Eating – more
Alcohol consumption – no change
Ability to be still and reflective – less
Sleep – often shorter, brain more active later in the evening from computer use

It seems I have become something of an addict in terms of the components of time spent using social media and the emotions that stirs or alters.

Is abstinence viable or necessary?

Unlike alcohol, social media, or at least time at the computer and aspects of the internet, are not something 21st century users can abstain from. In the UK the government is pushing citizens to it, right down to people who may be too poor to own a computer or too illiterate to use it. It will become a tool of exclusion if we’re not careful.

Perhaps it’s a question of balance

What might save us from this addiction and from being diagnosed with a mental illness?

The simple answer is ‘ourselves’. We are in control of the off button. But life is never that simple. So I’d like to suggest an alternative: Mindfulness.

During February 2013 the Wisdom 2.0 conference – think Silicon Valley on retreat rather than doing business – took place in San Francisco. Jon Kabat-Zinn , a leading exponent of mindfulness, said “We’re in the information age… …it’s a huge stretch for us to understand how we’re going to deal with all this information that is so overwhelming us that we are perpetually self-distracting, and instead find the threads of connectivity.”

Google has been aware of such issues for some years. Google’s ‘Jolly Good Fellow’ Chade-Meng Tan (Meng), whose job description is, “Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace” invited Kabat-Zinn to speak to google employees in 2007, and google’s VP spoke in the opening discussion of Wisdom 2.0 in 2010
There’s a common phrase in mindfulness about ‘showing up in our own lives’, being present in ourselves and to ourselves in the present moment. Wisdom 2.0 considered “How can we live with greater presence, meaning, and mindfulness in the technology age?”

Brain changes
The constantly expectant state that comes with a constantly connected digital life raises the vigilant brain stress hormones, which are known to have an impact on physical as well as mental wellbeing. Equally mindfulness has been shown to profoundly alter, heal and nourish the brain – it enables us to dwell in ourselves and not in a state of being elsewhere with all the stresses that brings. It improves attention, sleep, relationships, mood and productivity – what’s not to like?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, writer of the foreword in Mindfulness: the practice of finding peace in a frantic world, said “We’re rediscovering something deep within ourselves that is timeless, and it is potentially profoundly healing and transformative, and globally so. So I see this as maybe the manifestation already of the early phases of what I would call a global renaissance of awakening, of true wisdom.”
That seems quite a claim. True? False? Possible? Impossible?

Try it for yourself. There are youtube videos and podcasts aplenty by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and by Mark Williams, co-author of Mindfulness: the practice of finding peace in a frantic world. Kabat-Zinn has written excellent books, too.

So join me, get yourself a book, a podcast or an audiobook, step away from the computer for a short while and have yourself a mindful time. It’s already paying dividends for me.

How the ‘Poetry Engine’ gives museum visits a whole new meaning

GUEST POST : Elaine is a Doctoral student in Education and also nearing the end of her BA in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Nottingham. She runs Strange Alliances, a blog exploring different ways of creating narratives through different forms of media and can be found on Twitter @EMAldred.

Next time you go to a museum, don’t go on your own. Bring a few people interested in writing, then spread out to find objects that interest each of you. But whatever you do, don’t look at the labels.
Then start up what poet Mark Goodwin refers to as a ‘Poetry Engine’ exercise. Take no more than three minutes to write the first things that come into your head, while you’re looking at your chosen item. Write a poem based on these words. Get back together for an intense brainstorming session to combine at least two poems. Then perform them as a shared enterprise, spread out amongst an audience seated about the museum collection.

The result is engrossing and startling, when themes such as war and rural idyll are juxtaposed. As the words emerge and work with each other there is a palpable sense of disquiet, particularly as the objects of inspiration (a gas mask and a seed spreader) reside on a table by your shoulder.
That’s what happened last night at the bijoux Kegworth Museum, as the audience seated themselves down the length of the upstairs room amongst a variety of themed areas ranging from agriculture, to a Victorian lady’s boudoir, an old schoolroom and war memorabilia.

The ‘poetry experience’ (Mark’s definition of the event) was the culmination of three, weekly sessions of the ‘Box of Props’ intensive creative experience run by Mark and his partner Nikki Clayton, who has a Doctorate in Museum studies and has been an open museum projects officer.
In the first week, the group used the museum as inspiration to create poetry. Week two was spent organising and combining the poetry, ready for the performance in week three.

The performers experience had been one of intense activity, but no one was complaining and were, in fact, demanding more of the same. The audience, tucked in amongst the objects that had inspired the poetry, felt the same way.

However, what emerged from the exercise was more than the creation of poetry. One of the curators voiced her desire to re-label the collection, because of the insights she had gained through her participation in the project. It was clear she now saw many of the objects in a completely different way. What had once been an inanimate object of interest, had now acquired a personality and unique narrative.

This outcome is particularly interesting, given Nikki and Mark’s combined passion for using museum collections to inspire the development of language through creativity and poetry. It’s something they know a great deal about having contributed a chapter on the subject in The Thing about Museums. Objects and Experience, Representation and Contestation an edited book published by, Routledge.

The ‘Poetry Engine’ technique also appears to present creative opportunities to those who may have a desire to express themselves through writing, but are held back by fear of appearing linguistically inadequate. This opens up numerous creative opportunities in many fields of education.

The process is certainly infectious. My next museum visit will be spent ignoring the labels and discovering what complex narratives I can draw out of something that catches my eye.