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Birch Bay Public Market

Friday, May 10 through the end of summer, Cathy and I will be selling her hand-made soaps, lotions, and toiletries, along with my photography, note cards, calenders, books, etc.

Come see us!

Across the street from the C Shop

4825 Alderson Road, Birch Bay, Washington 98230

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I had an automated blogroll here, powered by Google Reader, but Google, in its near-infinite lack of wisdom, killed Google Reader. Prior to this murder, all I had to do to put a blog on my blogroll (or to take it off) was to place it in a Reader folder called, appropriately enough, "blogroll" (or, of course, to remove it). I use The Old Reader now for following blogs, but it seems to have no way to something similar regarding the blogroll. If you know of a way to do this, please let me know.

Storytelling – It’s NOT All About the Words

Pop quiz:

Question one: What’s this?

image

Question two: What’s this?

image 

The moral of the story? It’s not all about the words.

You know what the top picture is, what it means, where you might encounter it, and what to do with it. The second picture is a lot less meaningful, and yet what is it lacking, exactly? The text is identical. Each and every letter in each case is exactly the same as the corresponding letter in the other example. It’s the rest of the presentation that’s missing. The look and feel, if you will.

Some time ago, I took down the handful of works I had published in various ebook formats on Smashwords. There were several reasons for this, including the fact that the site was repeatedly telling me that the works weren’t properly formatted while not telling me why, but the primary reason, and the reason I haven’t made any further forays into epublishing, is that I’m gravely concerned about the direction ebooks are taking us.

Open up a phone book, and look at a page. Now open up a King James Bible, a dictionary, a math textbook, a “literary fiction” novel, a “commercial fiction” novel. They aren’t all the same. The book itself is an object, and the words in it are not the only characteristics it has, nor are they the only ones that are used (or at least, should be used) by the author. The shape of the text block on the page, the weight and nature of the typeface, the embellishments and decorations are all there to speak to the reader. They all do speak to the reader, and what they are saying should be as carefully controlled by the author as what the words themselves are saying. Even the pages themselves, the starts and stops and turnings, the hiding and revealing, are all part of the book’s voice.

And I am very deeply concerned that the headlong rush to digitalize everything will take these aspects of book design away from us. In our haste, we will simply discard anything about book design that might be a little hard to do now, rather than wait and do it right. We will end up a world of tone-deaf readers, floundering in a sea of toneless books, each one sounding as unique as the sound of two rocks clacking together.

Given time, the process of evolution will bring out the capabilities we need in epublishing software, but for now, I just don’t think it’s there yet. The ability to change typefaces to suit the whims of the reader is seen as a good thing, as is the ability to flow text to new page sizes and shapes. We even rely on automatic thingies to translate our books from one language to another. What about vocabulary? Will it be a good thing when the reader can select G, PG, PG13, etc, and simply have the book alter its vocabulary to match the whims of the reader? Will we be able to turn the heat up and down on the sex scenes as easily as we turn the volume up and down on the radio?

It is often said that art should be transparent. I’m not really sure what that means. If it means when you read my book, you shouldn’t be seeing (as I do when I read yours, or that guy over there’s, or Dick Francis’s) the actual nuts and bolts of diction and syntax, then fine. If it means your shouldn’t see how I affected you by my choice of typeface, then fine. But if it means that the choice itself is simply irrelevant, that any typeface will do as well, that diction and syntax are irrelevant, that the story is all about the words, and not the formatting, then I say horseradish.

It’s not about the words. It’s about the story. All of it.

 

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