Oh John Carroll

Month: August 2012 (page 1 of 2)

The New ‘Paperwhite’ Kindle →

I really want to like my Kindle, but I find that it mostly collects dust on the shelf these days.  I think it’s ugly.  And I’m not talking about the device itself — it’s light, and the right size, and mostly sharp looking.  But the typography itself bothers me: I’m willing to make a number of trade-offs when it comes to choosing e-ink over real ink, but the one that continues to direct me back to paper is the look of the text itself.

The link above is a look at the new Kindles coming out this year.  A backlight should be a nice touch for many, but I’ll only be interested if I read something about improved typefaces.  I don’t expect this, of course — McSweeney’s uses book-specific, fixed fonts with their in-app purchase books, but I recall only seeing complaints from readers who are used to the flexibility that non-fixed types provide.  I don’t see, though, why there cannot be a middle ground: a variety of sharp, easy-to-read typefaces that cannot be manipulated by users who prefer their text larger or smaller.

@typesofants

If you’re interested in seeing what an newly unemployed and newly Kansan writer does to amuse himself during the day, please follow my new Twitter account: @TypesOfAnts.

The Form of Form

I have used Duotrope for years now.  The site is an incredible resource for writers: most of my peers use it, and those who don’t are always thrilled to be turned onto it.  Despite being both a fan and user of the site, though, I never investigated its features.  I used the site solely for researching literary journals that I might want to submit to or read.

That changed today.  I began using their submission tracker to organize where my stories are and where they’ve been.  This was partly for my sanity, and partly to help others: I have data that is valuable to the site and its users.  I finally realized I should share it.  (I also learned a bit more about how the site operates.  In short, it needs our help, and I hope my fellow Duotrope users will join me in donating.)

The most interesting part of this data input, though, was revisiting all of the rejection letters I’ve received in the past few years.  I began looking them up for the dates: I needed to know when I submitted a story and when I heard back from the publication.  But as I began opening these responses, I started reading them.  And what struck me first was how good they were.  And what struck me next is how terrible that is.

When logging submission data in Duotrope, the user has the option to catalog the type of response he or she received.  This ranges from acceptance to pending to rejection.  Most every option has several variations.  Rejection, for instance, breaks down as follows: Rejection; Rejection, Form; Rejection, Personal.  At first, I thought I had several responses that could qualify as Rejection, Personal.  But as I read deeper into my miserable little archive of rejection, I found too much in common between these seemingly kind and personal notes.  They were aping the language and structure of intimate communication, but their similarities exposed them for what they were: form letters.

Personal rejection letters hold a special place amongst writers.  It is, in essence, an honorable mention — an indication that the story is close, that there might be other factors preventing it from being published, that the author should try again with a revised or new story.  I’ve been in countless conversations where I talk with friends about submissions and someone eventually asks, after all of the bad news, “Well, any personal rejections?”

Reading these letters reminded me of my work in fundraising, when the goal of a mass mailing was to find ways to connect with each recipient, no matter how fleeting or seemingly inconsequential such contact was.  The intent was simple: “We have to do it this way, but we found a sliver of time just for you.  Hope you can continue to support us.”

I don’t see what the intent is when it comes to such moments in rejection letters.  I suppose it could be similar — that these publications don’t want to alienate potential subscribers/donors, or simply don’t want their submitters creating negative associations with the publication itself.  But I wonder if the opposite is occurring: if rejected writers like myself are becoming frustrated not with rejection, but with a publication’s inability to plainly and flatly reject us when needed.

Such letters might not be as welcome as an acceptance letter, but they are just as clear in their messaging.  What more could a writer want?

Why Waiting In Line Is Torture →

I’m catching up on articles in my Instapaper queue, and I loved this New York Times piece by Alex Stone.  I was fascinated to learn about why I often see mirrors near elevators:

The idea was born during the post-World War II boom, when the spread of high-rises led to complaints about elevator delays. The rationale behind the mirrors was similar to the one used at the Houston airport: give people something to occupy their time, and the wait will feel shorter. With the mirrors, people could check their hair or slyly ogle other passengers. And it worked: almost overnight, the complaints ceased.

0-Click →

Dan Frakes details his recent Amazon woes.  I find this to be an increasingly frequent and annoying problem with customer service for web storefronts: there’s a problem that’s out of the user’s control, but no way to solve or troubleshoot it because these customer service departments are only equipped to handle problems that are within the customer’s control.

First Editions of Classic Books →

I think Brave New World is my favorite.  In related news, I’ve been enjoying pulling out beautiful, early covers of my favorite books at our local used bookstore.

Nostalgia Trip of the Day →

Brandon Stroud builds a gallery of WWF 8×10 glossy photos from the late 80s/early 90s.

Feel Inside (And Stuff Like That) →

Flight of the Conchords returns from an extended hiatus with a New Zealand celebrity-laden track to benefit Red Nose Day.

Time Shifted

Devin Faraci wrote a piece today about taking responsibility for time shifted television viewing.  Mostly, he’s tired of reading complaints about spoilers across the web.  And while I agree with the points he’s making, the article made me interested in another idea entirely: the virtue of spoilers.

I love a good spoiler.  As a child, I flipped to the end of books before opening to page one.  I would be so excited to read that I simply had to know the ending — it allowed me to savor everything along the way.  Obviously, this was a practice that needed to stop as I grew older, if only because flipping to the end of The Great Gatsby did not yield the same payoff as flipping to the end of a Matt Christopher* book.

What bothers me about ALL-CAPS SPOILER culture is the idea that stories are merely information vehicles.  They certainly can be structured as such: The Sixth Sense seems like the classic example, and to spoil it is to ruin the only circumstance under which one should watch the film.  Lost is another example, although an opposite extreme: to spoil it is to save one from having to watch it.  In retrospect, the show is interesting within this conversation because it seemingly decided to become an information vehicle midway through its network run.

During this past season of Mad Men, I ran into situations almost every week that Faraci describes in his piece.  I would be on Twitter.  I would be recording the show.  And I would eventually see tweets about the show as it aired.  Most of the time, I would leave Twitter.  While I am not crushed to learn spoilers, I also don’t seek them out.  Except when I do: one week, I kept reading my timeline and eventually thought I had read too much.  Namely, I thought I had learned that Pete Campbell had killed himself in an automobile accident.  Now, for you SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER folks, I haven’t spoiled anything — except, well, that Pete Campbell doesn’t die in an automobile accident.  (Aside: isn’t that still a spoiler?  Can I not even rule out events that DON’T happen?)  And Mad Men viewers can probably guess the episode where I read tweets that led me to such a conclusion.  But subsequently watching the episode was riveting: I was expecting one thing and found another.  While different than my childhood reading, the experience was mostly similar: in entering a story with expectations, I experienced the media in front of me at a heightened level.  These are story experiences that I wouldn’t take back.

An even better and direct example from my life: The Sopranos.  After its sudden and controversial conclusion, I found it impossible to avoid hearing about it.  Despite having never seen an episode of The Sopranos at that point in my life, I knew about the final scene within 12 hours of its airing.  It’s a show I had been meaning to watch for some time.  My parents had the first season on DVD.  I could have borrowed it.  I simply never got around to it.

In our current ALL-CAPS SPOILER culture, the typical reaction would have been to complain, and to have even less motivation to watch the show.  But I started watching that week.  Even moreso than Mad Men, I had flipped to the end of the book, albeit this time without choosing to do so.  And what I saw enthralled me.  I started watching the show that week.  And I didn’t enjoy it any less having known how it would end.  If anything, it made me even more appreciative of how it ended.  It’s the finest conclusion I’ve ever seen to a television series.

But I can hear the naysayers now: “John, Mad Men and The Sopranos are awesome shows.  Of course you still liked them.  What about the aforementioned Sixth Sense, for example?”  First of all, naysayers, thanks for teeing this up for me.  You used the exact example I wanted!  And you’re right.  Those shows are excellent, and it’s hard to imagine how any spoiler would render them poor or less worthy.  But The Sixth Sense is a perfect example for my rule of thumb: a spoiler can’t ruin a good story, but it can ruin a bad one.  I loved The Sixth Sense when I saw it as a teenager.  But I’ve hated it every time I’ve seen it since.  It’s a magic trick, and a good one at that, but anyone can tell a good story by withholding crucial information.  Only the best storytellers can keep your attention when they lay everything out in front of you — or when their young readers first flip to the end of the book.

I suppose I would understand those concerned with spoilers if they had better justification for their fear.  If, for instance, a hypothetical friend of mine was worried he would have his perception of a show shaped by the reaction to it — this I could understand.  But ALL-CAPS SPOILER culture seems only to fear the information itself.  These reactions are born of an ugly approach to stories: that we read or watch them because they end, and not because they exist and engage.

I care about this not because I wish to spoil stories — in fact, I hope I’ve gone to great lengths to not spoil any of the shows or books mentioned here — but because I wish to talk about them.  And in worrying about spoilers, we try to preclude good conversation — the exact types of discourse where we don’t merely talk about information, but about experience.

Technology!

Rachael and I watched The Adventures of Tintin last night.  The story was unnecessarily complicated, to the point that I simply resolved to stop complaining about the jumps it took.  And making such a resolution was easy, as I was certainly interested in observing the spectacle of it all.

Motion-capture human characters still have a creepy appeal to them, and I didn’t expect that to change in watching a “real” version of a hand-drawn comics character.  But if there’s such a thing as a “motion-capture dog industry,” then allow me to say that they’re making great strides!  I was glued to Snowy whenever he was on-screen.  If someone wants to make a Snowy-only edit, I’ll pay you my $20 right now.

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