Welcome Visiting Spanish Authors

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By , October 30, 2013 1:56 pm

Join us in welcoming our Spanish-speaking authors to the University of North Georgia. At noon on November 8th we will be hosting a book reading and signing at the Starbucks in the Chestatee building. Come for the poetry and free refreshments.

Meet Benjamín Prado, a well-known novelist and author of Shelter from the Storm, Fernando Valverde, author of Eyes of the Pelican, Andrea Cote Botero, one of the contributors to Poetry Facing Uncertainty, and the translator of all three works: Dr. Gordon McNeer. All three books will be available for purchase.

Going to the 2013 SAMLA conference? You can also catch them there at 6:15 pm at the Augusta Room.

For more information about this event, check out this article from UNG News.

The Art of Writing Role Models

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By , October 28, 2013 11:15 am

Imagine reading the Bible, and the disciples were a dozen variations on Jesus. Bland? Flat? Boring? The irony of writing: authors always want to write role models for people, and yet if you do things too well and make your protagonists too good, the results always feel insipid. Where is the line, though? Where, with fictitious characters, do good role models go bad?

A recent blog post on specifically women’s issues got me thinking about this.

We need a new model of female leadership that encourages women to seize the opportunities afforded by the digital era.


Here you have it in a nutshell: writing (in this case nonfiction) is a form of activism, to encourage people to improve themselves. Of course, the trick isn’t in writing nonfiction, but fiction. How do you write admirable characters without making them saccharine?

The answer lies in understanding the problem. A character who is never morally challenged by the situation will put the readers on their guard. Every time they read the character doing the “right” thing and the reader wouldn’t, they feel judged by that character’s perfect moral character. If the reverse never happens—when the reader wants to correct the character’s actions, the relationship feels one-sided.

Take Paul Atreides from Dune, for example. Paul always treads a fine line between being a great character and being overpowered because he can foresee the future. He reacts to this ability, however, by always acting along paths he can’t see the end of.  His moral challenge to not play things safe is the opposite of what problems many of us—who don’t have psychic powers of foresight—have on a daily basis. It feels natural because neither extreme is perfect.

On the other end of the spectrum is Hunger Game’s Peeta Mellark. When does this guy not know exactly what to do, and even more to the point, when is his delivery even the slightest bit flawed? I love Katniss (oh, wait: I’ll withhold her name and only drop the hint at the end for dramatic effect.) Peeta delivers his hooks so perfectly it’s infuriating.

Even if the reader and the character never directly interact, half of the point in reading is to learn vicariously, and from the reader’s point of view there is an interaction because the fictitious characters are shaping their experiences and how they think. If the character doesn’t have a fault, something most readers in the audience would point a finger at and say “do this differently,” the reader starts to sense their fictitious relationship is one-sided.

The E-book Subscription Has Arrived

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By , October 17, 2013 4:44 pm

It’s official. The last pillar keeping the e-book from taking over the universe has arrived in the form of a “Netflix-like” subscription, offered by Oyster. For $9.99 a month, you get unlimited access to a library of e-books.

Unlimited Access coming to an e-reader near you! (Sort of)

Now, it’s not like this particular service is going to take over the universe. A paltry 100,000 titles, most of which are trade paperbacks, will impress no one, but, given enough time, I believe this subscription model will become the bread and butter of the publishing industry, and yes, that does mean replacing the hardcover book. Let me explain why.

For starters, this unlocks the e-book reader’s full potential. When I bought myself one, I was immediately impressed by it, but I also understood instantly that without a subscription service its potential would be limited and sales would plateau, which they have. Many agents, authors, and editors attribute the leveling off of sales to the superiority of the hardcover book model, as many readers “simply prefer” to hold a book.

That is not the reason sales have stalled. That’s a reason hardcover books will never cease to be. The reason the e-reader’s sales have flattened is because it is the theoretical reverse of a book, forced into a business model the technology is poorly suited for. Books have always been about preserving content indefinitely. E-book readers can be used that way, but their strong point is delivering disposable content on demand. Comparing an e-reader to a book in terms of how long the hardware will take to buy itself back and become “a savings” really misses the point because the e-reader doesn’t try to replace books, but replace what publishers were doing with them.

The most important reason, however, is that a subscription-based business is much lower risk than a sales model. Think about it: with the subscription you have a backlog of content to float ongoing risks with. It doesn’t matter if some of your present projects don’t pan out because most readers will still have things you are offering they want to read on the backlog, encouraging them to renew even if the publisher has a dry-spell of new titles for them. The subscription will really take the weight off publisher marketing divisions.

Disclaimer: This is an opinion column. Opinions expressed here may or may not reflect those of the University Press of North Georgia.

Alice Munro Wins the Nobel Prize for Literature

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By , October 15, 2013 4:13 pm

Short stories are not easy to write. The heartbeat of literary fiction—the character—takes time and space. The reader needs time to get to know fictitious characters because in many ways the reader is growing a friendship with them. Fifty thousand words is small for most. Now go on a 90% diet (or more) and that’s the limits of a literary short story, and commercial ones are even worse. How is the reader supposed to get emotionally involved in ten minutes or less?

And yet Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature for her short stories, most of which feature local flavor from her Canadian background. A high honor for a difficult—and often underappreciated—genre. Munro herself used a unique style for many of her short stories, beginning in odd places or reversing the flow of time, and according to the NPR, regarded her prize as a victory for the genre and Canadian writers, not just her own achievement. Even so, she still intends to retire, citing her age and a desire to not be left alone “like a writer needs.” As she announced her retirement before she won the prize, it is possible the committee wanted to honor her with it while her work was in recent memory. Munro herself had stopped paying attention to literary awards. According to the New York Times, the Swedish Academy could not inform her she had won before the public announcement, and her daughter had to tell her she had won.

The Facetious and the Facts

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By , October 7, 2013 11:00 am

How much is a non-fiction author allowed to make up and get away with it? How much “artistic license” should we tolerate with something ostensibly factual?

Jonah Lehrer found out last year that he was over the line when put a few things Bob Dylan didn’t actually say in his book, Imagine: How Creativity Works. And also that he had self-plagiarized, or that he had already sold or licensed out portions of the book’s content in various blog posts he wrote for The New Yorker and The Guardian. Houghton Mifflin, his publishing house, felt rightly wronged and pulled the book from retailers.

But where is the line?

Obviously non-fiction has a much higher standard than fiction on this one, and putting words in someone’s mouth is never a good idea, but I think that authors of any work—even works of fiction—should endeavor to make as little up as possible.

The gold standard here is Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. Wolfe spent hours conducting interviews and researching events, filling his book with anecdotes and details which went far beyond historical verisimilitude. Did he always have the truth? No. But in those few instances, he wasn’t wrong because he didn’t try.

Admittedly, not many of us have access to Mercury astronauts to interview. Information—particularly fact-checked information—is hard to come by, but if anyone shouldn’t be put at risk, it’s the reader—the person who spent good money in good faith that the information would be accurate. As publishers and authors, we owe our paying customers the effort to collect and present information accurately.


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