The prodigal blogger returns

Good gravy, what say we surpass this stagnant state of non-blogging, eh? A new year, a good quarter done, much to catch up on, much to do. So: let’s.

Digits? Commence list exposition!

  • I’m still enjoying work at the NLA, a good six months in. It seems I’m finally getting the hang of the whole work/life-outside-work balancing act, with the inevitable occasional wobbles and hiccups.
  • I am against the word that is spelled ‘hiccough’.
  • When something is too spicy for me, I get hiccups.
  • I like to insert irrelevant items into lists.
  • I can’t decide whether lists are inane or wonderful. Or maybe both.
  • Scissors Paper Pen continues apace — onward and upward, even! We’ve put on events all around central Canberra: at the Phoenix Pub, Lonsdale Street Roasters, the National Library, and, during the You Are Here Festival, several other places (and all this YAH business will be expanded upon at a latter dot, but for now I sing praises to Rosie Stevens for ably organising so much SPP/YAH-related stuff while I was off gallivanting in places like NYC [again, latter dot] and she did and does a whole stack of good stuff so go read her blog already).  O, and SPP won an Express Media award! As for the future, we at SPP have further plans of great excitement, online and off. Rest yourselves assuredly. For now, we do hope for your involvement in future SPP happenings, dear blog reader, and offer you some of the podcasts we’ve got so far, with a promise of much more SPP goodness a-comin’.
  • Did somebody say podcasts? I have been going certifiably insane for the things in the past few months. JoMad: I Heard You Like Books?Radiolab, The Rereaders, This American Life, Paper Radio and all sorts from the ABC. You have suggestions for more? Fire away!
  • Speaking of electronic wonderment, I got me a Kobo Touch for Christmas! It’s pretty great. Once I got past the novelty factor, the accidental dropping of my keys on the screen (tiny spiderweb crack attack!) and other miscellaneous gadget glitches that keep such devices devoid of some elusive holistic rightness and romantic charm, I have found it most excellent for a variety of reading materials! In fact, it’s really good for travelling, which is handy because…
  • In February/March, my first ladyfriend and I did travel overseas for a fortnight! For me, it was my first time stepping outside the bits on the map marked ‘Australia’, so it was definitely a Big Thing. We went to New York, we went to Montreal, we passed through Schenectady on an Amtrak train, we sat on planes for days, the whole bit. I may just dedicate a future post solely to such travel stories. Oddly enough, I haven’t written anything substantial about it since I returned ashore. However, we did keep a daily travel diary and I did send a dozen postcards while international. But in summary:

It was excellent. USA! NUMBER ONE! YEAHHHHH.

  • And then we returned to the calm clamour of Canberra, amidst the second annual You Are Here Festival. It’d been going for a few days when I arrived, but my festival began when I, mildly jetlagged, popped into that long-abandoned newsagency, redubbed The Newsroom. I saw The Cashews playing to a room full of all sorts and it was golden gorgeous and I was Home. Over the next few days, I witnessed multitudes of poetry, the best debate ever, a wondrous harp + laptop duo, got pub quizzed at, experienced comedy as religious-educational experience and hunted for miniscule artworks around the CBD. Even in my, still limited, experience, it was awesome and I can’t wait for next year. In the meantime, I’ll be extracting some of the goodness from the YAH blog and its associated multimedia webtunnels.
  • Speaking of what has been but remains rad: making and sharing mix CDs and sending postcards, letters and other postal delights! Been doing it since Christmastime and it’s a weirdly great thing and if you are still reading this I will send you a postcard or a letter or something if you give me yr address or hey also look at this PO Box 251 Campbell LPO 2612 get on that like a total hipster before it’s too cool.
  • But seriously what even is a hipster? I think it is an excuse to just dismiss something and it’s a lazy term mostly.
  • Lazy? I rode a friggin’ segway on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.
  • And I kinda finally learned how to iron. It took 25 years. No segue.
  • Even though I’d not been blogging for months ’til this outburst, I have been writing. I have words forthcoming in Burley. And you remember that You Are Here thing I mentioned? Well one Julian Fleetwood launched another thing during it called Mall Stories and I have a story in it about this one time I worked at a bookshop, and a voice actor reads it out to you during a self-guided walking tour and everything. I’m planning to actually finally do the tour this coming weekend! You can too! Preferably in the Canberra Centre, but in any case you should download it and go walking around a mall, or anywhere. Just listen. I know it’ll be good. But anyway, beyond those writings, I’ve had a few rejections which are always good for both reflection and a short-back-‘n’-sides on the ol’ ego, plus I have a number of writings pending and hey, I wrote this blog post list and it has like a dozen dot points already, what else do you want from me?
  • Huh?
  • Geez.
  • You’ll see!
  • Okay, I’ll stop the dots.

And there you have it: blog post! I hear there’s more where it came from, just quietly. So commence overlapping of your digits in anticipation and I’ll dedicate mine to punching more characters.

(postscript/edit: it was only after posting this that I thought to check the definition of ‘prodigal’. Apparently it actually means ‘wastefully extravagent’. Did everybody else know this? I clearly did not pay enough attention during Sunday school, but hey, now I know and I guess I am rather prodigal with my words/dots?)

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Willy Lit Fest Part 2: eBooks

Well, okay. I had said this post was coming a day or two after my previous one. But I guess I hadn’t factored in driving to Canberra and back again, preparing to move house,  getting sick,  and a confounded devil named procrastination. But! This post’s subject matter remains relevant, I already had a draft written, and I just had to get it finished before getting down to my Emerging Writer’s Festival blogging. Anyway, excuses are lame, so enough of all that and on to eBooks!

The third and final panel I attended at Willy Lit Fest was named From the Quill to the Kindle, and up on stage was Torpedo editor Chris Flynn, Meanjin editor Sophie Cunningham, and Penguin Books senior editor Dmitri Kakmi. Again, before I begin, Ms Thuy Lin has a great roundup of this panel already, so I won’t go repeating everything. But I guess, along with some stuff from the panel, I had a few other things to discuss regarding eBooks.

One of the main questions the panel raised was whether books as we know them now will eventually ‘die’. I don’t see it happening any time soon and I think the two will coexist quite peacefully for a while yet. But will it, inevitably, eventually, happen? I know the comparison isn’t perfect, but if you look at the similar situation faced by the music industry, there remains a decent amount of people who still buy CDs and even vinyl, in addition to, or rather than, downloading. Maybe books will become something of a similarly fetishised or desirable physical object, kept alive by true believers. The arguments for physical books share similarities with those for CDs and vinyl: the ability to have an actual artefact that you can hold in your hands, show off to others, touch and smell. For many, these physical objects are more tactile and aesthetically pleasing, the cover/packaging/design looks better, or the experience may just be more ‘authentic’, more than ‘just data’ or, simply, it might be all about embracing a different but equally worthy medium. Like comparing a vinyl record to a folder of mp3s, a book is a different experience to an eBook, and both have their pros and cons. A page I bookmarked a while back, Books in the Age of the iPad by Craig Mod, explores something along these lines: the difference between Formless Content and Definite Content.

Another barrier I perceive to eBook adoption is the devices. If your paperback is lost, stolen, damaged, dropped in the bath or what have you, it’s not nearly as big a deal as the same thing happening to your new Kindle or iPad, along with any associated data you can’t retrieve. And if you’re not particularly well-off, mightn’t you just go to the library for all the free books you want, rather than purchasing a device worth hundreds of dollars?

For sure, when Sophie held up what must have been an imported iPad (a first for an Australian literary festival, she wondered?), I was a bit excited. I’ve only tinkered briefly with friend’s iPhones and I’m keen to play around some more with these new devices. However, none of them look like something I’d buy. There is definitely an appeal to their many features, but I feel like the eReader medium is still in its early transitional stages, and I won’t be as interested until there’s something like colour e-ink and a move away from both DRM restrictions and monopolisation, where only Apple and Amazon seem to call the shots.  Still, the fact of the matter is that in Australia we’re still lagging behind the USA and other countries when it comes to this sort of technology, so we do get an element of foresight to the developments.

One argument that Chris Flynn made for the transition to eReaders is an environmental one. To me, this is where the eBook option starts to look way more appealing. The proportion of books made with non-recycled paper really is disturbing (again, Thuy Lin’s got the stats). Indie publishers do better in this regard, I’ve noticed, but there are so many mass-market paperbacks, disposable magazines and bulky textbooks that would be much more environmental and sensible on an eReader platform.

I do wonder, however, what the environmental and social costs are if millions of people are always purchasing the latest eReaders, iPhones, iPods, iPads, smartphones, laptops, etc. Here are just two articles that at least begin to interrogate some of the other factors behind eReaders and the like: the costs, conditions and materials involved in manufacturing; whether ‘conflict minerals’ are used; and the huge amount of greenhouse gases involved in maintaining ever-expanding computer/server networks. I think, especially if these things are noted and start to be addressed, and we get eBooks and eReaders right, then they will be indeed be a far greener and greater option.

Someone on the panel made another interesting assertion: that publishing is always behind the eight-ball, and that tech companies are taking publishing from the publishers. This, so far, has not just meant a bypassing of the usual production and distribution channels, but lots of secrecy and Digital Rights Management.

A somewhat recent post on Mobylives outlines a few of the problems with DRM. At the other end of the argument, of course, are people worrying about piracy wrecking the book business. I’m still not sure where a balance lies so that artists and publishers see rewards for their efforts, without placing unnecessary burdens or restrictions on their audience. I like Cory Doctorow’s thoughts on the matter (here’s a good three-part interview with him), but I’m not sure his approach can apply to everyone. But still, any DRM that is applied can and will be broken: Kindle’s DRM was broken last year. In the end, I’d like to think that if you offer high quality, assured, open, flexible and beneficial content for a reasonable price, a good amount of people, especially your loyal fans, will be happy to pay for it. And at least those who don’t are still reading and sharing your stuff.

Interlude: relevant webcomic!

Another related interesting point that arose in the panel: I’d never considered the legal deposit issues that come with eBooks. When a work like a book is created in Australia, the publisher is required to send copies the State and National Library for archiving and such. But if you’re only giving away DRM-locked licenses to books (as with the Kindle) rather than actual copies, it makes legal deposit rather difficult. Libraries can’t actually store a lendable copy, because Kindle eBooks can’t be shared and loaned, thanks to their DRM. It’s very odd to think that when you buy a book, it still doesn’t belong to you, and that the provider can actually alter or remove it from your device remotely.

Beyond all of that DRM stuff, I was interested in what Sophie talked about concerning changing mediums, and how they change the reading and writing process. From speech to handwriting, to redrafting over and over on a typewriter, to the cut and paste of computers, and on to the podcast/audiobook/eBook/multimedia situation we find ourselves in now, with all the associated multitasking distractions and possibilities. (Meanland has been exploring this stuff in more detail). Compare all this to the more fixed text of a book. But we have to remember: the novel is only 200 years old. Novels may well become rarefied, kept alive only by true believers, and maintain an old-fashioned status, akin to opera today. But people will always want stories, and many will want long-form narratives. So really, there’s no need for concern.

Finally, I believe Dmitri Kakmi mentioned this video to illustrate the merging of reading with play; it’s a fusion between iPhone and Book: the PhoneBook!(?):

I guess after all this rumination (I really need to write some shorter posts), I’ll finish with a link to a recent post by Emmett Stinson, who hopes, as I do, that with the arrival of the iPad, the launch of Kobo and other imminent developments, we can stop talking about the future of digital publishing in Australia and start talking about what’s actually happening in the present.

And with that, I think I’ll end my rambling about eBooks and Willy Lit Fest. But as one festival passes, another emerges. Thus, the Emerging Writers Festival began on Friday night, with The First Word. I went along, and I’m planning to get as involved as I can in the rest of the festival. In the spirit of that, I plan to get my blog on harder than ever. Starting today!

The future of books?

Don’t worry if e-readers take over, those chunky old hardbacks will still serve a purpose: as a case for your Kindle.

It’s interesting how this website is starting a little craft enterprise out of this idea. They do it for other models, and even for iPhone. Not sure if they’re the first to have done it for e-readers, but it’s the first I’ve heard of it.

It’s a perversely intriguing idea. You can keep the tactile sense of a real book in your hands, the smell of it, and the ability to show off the book you might be reading on the tram (although it could be just one of the thousands you really have stored inside). But I guess it’s going to make the original book a little hard to read.

Still, all in all, a cute idea. I wonder if they’ll ever design an e-reader that actually looks like a book, with a genuine textured display screen cover showing the title of whatever you’re reading, genuine page-rustling noise when clicking the turn pages button and a smell dispenser for that genuine old book scent! Why, it’ll be the best of both worlds! …Or not?

Plugs

What good is a blog if you can’t use it plug stuff? And it’s even relevant!

I’m currently doing an internship with The Lifted Brow, the one and only biannual attack journal of arts, letters and sciences. They have a great (and big – 200+ pages!) mix of material: short stories, creative non-fiction, poetry, art and more! The last issue came with a double CD of great music from artists like The Lucksmiths to Neil Gaiman (yup), and the current issue includes a cd-length epic journey of science-fiction, rhyming couplets and radness. That’s not to mention the new maths column, which comes with a free piece of string!

I heartily recommend that you check it out, buy a copy, subscribe and tell them what you think!

Second, have a look at Blemish Books. This is my friend from Canberra’s new publishing venture and it looks like he’ll be doing some great stuff. If you’re inclined to write poetry or creative essays and see them published in real books (none of this digital publishing which is surely just a passing fad, like fridges), then send them your best stuff! Hey, there’s a reviews section on the website too, so I guess you can stay digital.

I wonder sometimes if independent publishers like the above will eventually migrate into ebooks, or if they will continue to produce works of quality and beauty in print. Zines have persisted as a viable format, even with the rise of blogs. Likewise, maybe ebooks and books will coexist, with each playing a role that is unique to the medium. I’m excited about the possibilities of ebooks, but surely there are some things that make print worthwhile: the tactile, the collectable and maybe more. And you can’t download a piece of string for an ebook!

It begins…

Hello and welcome to DuncanWritingEditingPublishing (DWEP?), a blog named not just for its overall theme, but for the process that goes towards it appearing before your very eyes! Incredible!

In keeping with this theme (or at least the P part), I’ve been pretty interested in where publishing is going, especially seeing as how it’s a field I’m looking to work in. But in the world of digital/online/‘new’ media, it seems most of us with access to the interwebs are already into it via self-publishing: uploading music to MySpace, tortured poetry onto LiveJournal or, hey!, blogs like this.

Anyway, as far as traditional book publishing goes, I’ve been exploring the issues surrounding the, well, not-so-traditional ebooks and the future of books in general. In particular, one of the main players at the moment seems to be Amazon’s Kindle.

From a few of the articles and blog posts that I’ve been reading, there are both  potential benefits and downsides to reading books on the Kindle, but even the more thoughtful articles seem to have skepticism mixed with enthusiasm. The Kindle may be more environmentally friendly, but it can be creepy in a doubly Orwellian way. Many say to forget the Kindle, using the iPhone is far superior for reading many ebooks.

I’m really keen to try out both the Kindle and the iPhone’s ebook capabilities for myself. But I have the feeling that neither of the devices have got it quite right yet. Maybe in the next round of fancy-schmancy electronic devices, something will come along that really makes ebooks work and brings them into the mainstream.

For now, I’m happy exploring blogs on my big old desktop computer, reading scribbles on smooshed up tree pulp and watching the latest round of The Book vs. The Kindle.