Review of The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri

Source: Review of The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri

 

This is an interesting review of The Clothing of Books, which makes a compelling argument for how we design books and consume visual media. I can’t wait to give it a look. One of the most underappreciated arts is designing good, concise, covers that are reflective of what the writer knows the story to be. This may seem trivial but can have disastrous and embarrassing consequences.

Here is an example….

Back in 2009, the young adult book Liar by Justine Larbalestier  was a center of controversy due to the covers of the book. Larbalestier’s preference was the cover have no face at all, a preference met by the Australian cover, which featured the word Liar written over and over on a white background, creating a unique and visually striking image. The U.S cover however was another issue. The U.S branch simply, as most companies due, believed Americans were not going to buy something so artistic or intriguing. To the world we’re simple and commercial is best. You can guess my feelings on that. But that’s common…what isn’t common is the cover choice. The U.S cover of Liar originally featured a white girl, cast in black and white, her mouth covered, as she looks at the reader.

The problem? The main character, Micah, is described as a black teenager, and her physical appearance the author has described as resembling a WNBA player she’s a fan of with dark skin and short natural hair. Emails began appearing in Larbalestier’s inbox asking whether Micah lied about being black, or if the cover represents a lie. The author has said this:

“I  never wanted a girl’s face on the cover. Micah’s identity is unstable. She spends the book telling different version of herself. I wanted readers to be free to imagine her as they wanted. I have always imagined her looking quite a bit like Alana Beard,2 which is why I was a bit offended by the reviewer, who in an otherwise lovely review, described Micah as ugly. She’s not!3

In the planning stages she objected to a number of potential models to be used on the cover, and in her own words “none […] looked remorely like Micah.” But her words went unheeded. She remained silent, letting those unfamiliar with the text praise the over, while awaiting readers who’d push back, allowing her to comment without hurting her reputation as a writer who was easy to work with. As she watched she even began to realize how important it is to have a girl who looks like Micah, or Alana Beard, on the cover. Between people automatically calling her an ugly girl for having “nappy” short hair or being dark when reading the text, to observing the lack of diversity among models used for book covers…she began to see the underbelly of race, beauty and marketing. She began to see without ever being conscious of it how people assigned “marketability” to certain bodies or simply didn’t care.

But in a book about a pathological liar and in a world where a cover shapes how we read the publisher accidentally hurt the content of the book. The publisher, seeing the backlash and confusion, published a new cover with a light skinned curly coiled model. Better, but still problematic. Covers don’t have to be exact reflections of the character, but the choices publishers make about covers says a lot about them as a company marketing a product and a producer(the author).

I tell you this story because covers matter and they say a lot about the industry. Authors don’t always know whats best, but authors do know what’s honest and what works. The decision to ignore the content of the book, a story about a black young woman, and present an image completely seperate from that does damage to authors. And in this case makes the publisher’s U.S branch seem racist. There’s no way around that. The author gives them so much benefit of the doubt, but I cannot. It’s an embarrassing, event that didn’t have to happen, and could have been avoided if the author was actually listened to.

Hopefully ,The Art of Clothing books will open some eyes and begin to give the industry something to really think about when it comes to how writers can and should impact the cover process. Designing our books shouldn’t just be a formality, but a mindful process.

Reblog: Poetry

Written by Jacob Ibrag

It’s the free soul that carries weight, searching for an appropriate vessel to reanimate. ‘This time it’ll be the right one,’ yet if it isn’t, it’ll have to wait another lifetime. I caught myself romanticizing about yesterday. As much as I wanted to forget, there was still some part of me […]

via Weight — Eyes + Words

I love following this blog for a reason. I get a lot of interesting poetry and prose coming my way

Why I Buy Poetry.

Previously, a post mentioned how reading poetry can make any writer better at their craft.  Today I’m going to tell you why that is, and why that fact makes me buy poetry.

I buy poetry books every once in a while because I love them, but also because think they can offer a number of lessons of how to construct stories and evoke feeling. A workshopping buddy of mine told me that she believes people can be taught craft, but not how to tell a story. You have to learn story telling on your own. I am inclined to agree. The very nature of poetry makes me inclined to agree because poetry can violate all the rules of craft but still support a powerful story. A poem is as versatile as a piece of elastic. You can use it to hold a crown in place, to make pants more comfortable, or to make a foot tambourine(that’s a thing I learned that existed last night). The nature of a poem is something you can alter into whatever shape you need. The accouterments, whether they be crown or tambourine or the elements of the story telling and the evocation of feeling, are an essential part of crafting a story.

When you know how to cut, define, hide, and comfortably place elastic you have learned skills you can apply to nearly any fabric. Yet elastic is a structural component, what catches your eye is how the accouterments are presented. Does the crown look janky as hell? Does the rhyme scheme break without,pardon the pun, rhyme or reason. Knowing Iambic pentameter won’t necessarily make you a good poet. Hell it could make you a worse one if you only follow those rules. But knowing how minimalist elements produce vivid clear imagery that moves you in a poem using iambic pentameter is something you learn by consuming poetry. And when you don’t look at the pentameter, when you look at clear word usage, or even page formatting you learn far more about story telling than reading some novels or short stories. Writers often focus on writing craft over story craft when even the best writers should expose themselves to the craft of story telling. Poetry reading is an excellent way to do that. You learn how to convey the raw story in a dozen or more different ways.

In that last post I told you:

I am proud to say I write great dialogue because I read and wrote poetry starting from 10 years old. Actually maybe even younger I remember reading Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings at some point with my mother’s help. How did poetry help me write dialogue? A good insult should be as sharp as a good poem and just as heavy with the punctuation. A proclamation of love that, I believe, has the most effect can be as simple as one line when you craft to context well. Poetry has done a lot of me as a writer, as a human being, and I know I’m not alone.

Dialogue is poetry. The stupid things we often say can be poetry especially if we’re clever. When I write a powerful moment, especially in a script it is closer to poetry than prose. If I have character who has finally had enough say “I hate you. Go away” to another it can be powerful. But it can be more powerful to have them laugh with tears glistening in their eyes and say “Loving you is hell. Just let me be free.” Poetry also has a lot of contradictions, long verses interrupted by  short ones, odd comparisons, and both broken and praised conventions. The sheer variety can show you so many tricks to showing emotional reactions, foreshadowing, and character building in neat little ways. More so than with  novellas, where a period is in a poem or whether that poem uses periods tells you a lot of information. Read some of my poetry here and all the punctuation and line length is intentional. Why? Because even the punctuation has to do work in a poem.

Poetry has so many forms and variations, but I promise you even the variations you can’t stand have moved some one else’s emotions. There will be poems you won’t understand. Some poems may simply not be meant for you to understand, and that’s ok. Regardless, reading poetry provides a guide to understanding story telling and story crafting. Not the craft of writing, but the craft of learning to tell a good story. You can spend $500 on a seminar, download $100 worth of ebooks on writing, and learn every grammar rule by heart. None of that is going to make you a better story teller without a diversity of reading. They can help you learn the craft, and understand how to convey things in a improved way.

BUT reading poetry gives you examples of how to convey emotion, setting, story telling, and how to line craft in beat by beat punches. Even the longest poems have an economy of words and structure vastly different than novels.

Specifically, the lyrical nature of poems can radically improve your writing in specific genres. Experiencing poetry especially as a romance or horror writer can vastly improve your story telling. Why do I say this? A good horror story should sing like a poem. Do you know why so many children’s rhymes are morbid? Besides as a coping mechanism, there is something pointed about morbid things. They don’t require long explanations. I joined wattpad and have been reading some great horror stories, but have been coming across far more awful ones. The awful ones lacked feeling, suspense, scene, and sense of character. But let’s look at a lyrical example of a good horror story:

Lizzie Borden took an axe

And gave her mother forty whacks.

When she saw what she had done,

She gave her father forty-one.

Were you surprised I used that one? In four lines we have a character, an event, and a conflict/realization, and then a choice. Slow it down and have children skipping rope to it and gets even more morbid. There’s a beautiful simplicity to that rhyme and the fact that this story has been told as a children’s jump rope rhyme even adds to the character. You have a woman who “whacks” her mother with an axe, and then the line is she sees what she’d done. Whether you think she did it in anger or not doesn’t matter because she saw the blood, the gore, and then not only killed her father but did so more violently.

We spend a lot of time critiquing flowery language and purple prose, but sometimes we misunderstand why. The problem is when flowery language detracts from a story or reads as fake. If flowery language reads wrong it comes across as an insincere way for the author to show off their talent. Good poetry flows, and good sentence should flow like good poetry by the last revision of a piece.

Lyrical poetic language isn’t about how many ways you can describe the night’s sky though it can help you diversify your descriptions. It isn’t about ego though I will say a lot of poets love to show off their egos in their poems. Lyrical poetic language is a means to tell a story in an immediate way to get a reaction, which is something many authors struggle with. It’s hard and let it be said that you may not always get what a poet is trying to do. It may not work for you. Still when written form a sincere place poetic language is incredibly potent. Understanding that potency is something that can greatly add to any written word. It pushes you to think in a different way than short stories and novels. The best thing a writer can often do is have exposure to everything under the sun. Not to copy, but to learn from.

That is why I read poetry. That is why I feel all writers should pick up a poetry book every blue moon. You can learn so much about how to craft a story.

 

Check out my two releases:

Suffer too Good and Dirty Honey on Amazon.

 

Flax and Banana Pancakes: 3 ingredients, Gluten-free and Vegan

Wanted to share this with ya’ll. Before writing today I’m getting prepped by doing a variation of this recipe with peanut butter added, pear, and extra cinnamon.

veghotpot

DSC_2099 These pancakes are perfect served with banana, blueberries and maple syrup!

I’ve never really had much of a sweet tooth but when I was stood in the kitchen with this plate of fluffy sweet pancakes in one hand and a fork in the other I actually did a little dance and said out loud (to myself) “oh wow, oh my, yummy” haha. So apparently these pancakes will make you dance and talk to yourself!

Tuesday is pancake day (shrove Tuesday) and I wanted to find something a bit different to try so I researched gluten free pancakes. I found an intriguing recipe for pancakes with just mashed banana and eggs! I know that in baking you can replace eggs for ground flax mixed with water so I decided to see if this would work for these pancakes. Instead of water I used hemp milk to give it an added sweetness…

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Avoiding conflict in your stories

One of the easiest things to do is write a story, but 90% of stories need conflict. The other 10% also need conflict, but they themselves result from conflict, and simply carry the resulting tension through the story.  There is a strong need for conflict, but for a lot of people that doesn’t come easily. It is the most intriguing part of a story because it impacts characters greatly, and yet there are some people who can construct everything but conflict. I’m sad to say that I believe I am one of those writers. A lot of times I ask myself if that makes me a bad writer, and truthfully I don’t think it does. However it does mean I have a very significant hurdle to becoming a better writer.  I supposed my interests have always been more on everything around the conflict than the conflict itself. There is one other component though. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like tension, conflict, or disharmony. I grew up in a house where my parents were often at each other’s throats both overtly and silently. Don’t think there weren’t good times. There were, but with those factors my natural avoidance of conflict.

You can imagine how moving into the romance genre goes if I can’t do conflict. There are so many times when I sit down and work out these convoluted conflicts and plots and I throw them away. Quite frankly plenty of fun stories in our heads are worth more than a penny. As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized having a nonsense conflict is often worse than having little or no conflict. But this has been something I’m been working on and as a result I’ve begun using a few of the practices below, which I reccomend to you.

  1. For thirty minutes I work on a piece starting from the middle, it could be an old story or a new one. This scene may have nothing to do with the actual book, and I set up a conflict between the characters. How? I give them each something they want that clashes. It could be Lita wants to go to the movies and Jon wants to stay home, but I deepen these to deeper clashes. His social anxieties versus her need for excitement. The conflict is who they are as represented by two opposing desires. Or it could be as simple as Hannah doesn’t like Lou and doesn’t want Pete to like him either. It isn’t about some grand plot, but about what Hannah will do to keep them apart. The goal is to write towards a moment of pure conflict. Assume the situation is underway and you have to work up to a point of direct conflict between the characters
  2. I will take two books or movies and or games, then pull a plot from one and a conflict from another and then write with new characters. Similar to above it forces me to think about characters in conflict, but this allows me to work on presenting the conflict without having to worry about constructing it. You take a new character and put them in the Matrix as Neo and another Mr. Smith.
  3. Alternative to the above you take two well known arch enemies and put them in wholly different story of conflict. Neo is a greaser, Mr. Smith a principle, and you ask yourself what conflicts do they have as characters regardless of setting and what would be the equivalent of the battle on the roof and slow motion.

Truthfully, what you have to do to engage with conflict and to improve is to not simply read more, but actively put your characters at odds. We see conflict everywhere in the real world both physically and internally. The key to unpacking conflict begins with one character’s wants conflicting with their actions or their wants conflicting with the actions available to them. They want to move left but are forced to go right. They want to move right but someone is blocking the way off for them. You have to dig into the difference between what one person wants and another in order to better craft intriguing stories.

For those of us who squirm at the thought of conflict, but want to write compelling stories we must forced ourselves out of the box. We’re already in a conflict between that desire and our ability to act, our job now as the protagonists of our own story is to work through that aversion to conflict so we can get what we want.