Scout It Out Dept.

Amazon's new publishing curation system: the non-wisdom of crowds.


The more I read about Amazon's Kindle Scout program, the less I like it.

There's a lot about it not to like, but in the end, it all comes down to the same problem: the "wisdom of crowds" is not wisdom. It's dullard-dom.

If you ask a thousand people what seems like a good idea for a book, the vast majority of them are likely to come up with either an exact copy of what's already out there or some mild variant on it. The one who does come up with something truly original and interesting gets drowned out.

To that end, Kindle Scout sounds like a great way to do nothing more than automate creative conformity. But then again, isn't that what most companies that traffic in "creative" work these days want to do? Sounds like a great idea, until you start wondering why everyone around you is dropping dead of boredom.


Tags: Amazon publishing


Be Yourself, Lest You Be Someone Else Dept.

On weirdness as a substitute for being original.


What with the recent discussion around David Lynch's Twin Peaks coming back to TV, or something, I ended up having a parallel discussion about the appeal of David Lynch, the man I've credited with making compulsive weirdness-for-weirdness's-sake a mainstream thing. I suspect one of the results of his cultural impact has been stuff like the bizarro lit movement (the roots of which also stretch back to folks like Burroughs, the Surrealists, the Grand Guignol, Dada, etc.), but I'm finding it's possible to be a David Lynch fan and not care for any of that stuff at all.

I think I know why, now: it's because compulsive weirdness is every bit as straight in its own way as anything else.

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Tags: creativity genres originality


Top Of The Heap Dept.

Storytelling descending; marketing rising.


Long week, not much blogarithm. But some insight: dammit, I seem to be contradicting myself. Very well, I contradict myself, multitudes and all that. Still, spotting it and singling it out is always a worthy exercise.

Exhibit A for the jury (and judge, and executioner): the other day I was gabbling about how everything is turning into overbudgeted comic book movies blah blah, and then in barely the next breath, talked about how creative filmmaking finds a way blah blah, and then in barely the next breath after that, mentioned that it would be nice if some of those creative-filmmaking-at-all-odds folks didn't have to rattle their cups for dimes on the boulevard just to get something made, all because it didn't happen to have Save The Cat dynamics and wasn't adapted from a comic book or a bestseller.

Now trace that line of thinking backwards: If creative filmmaking finds a way, isn't it a waste of energy to complain about how those guys don't get the gravy?

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Tags: creativity marketing


You Are What You Dream Dept.

Even our entertainments are works of art whether or not we like it, and have the chance to be taken very, very seriously by somebody out there.


Going back through some of my older posts, I've noticed a few threads that I try to pick up and carry the standard for a little further each time they come up. One of them is something I guess you could call the Creator's Duty, although the way I've stumped for it might make it earn the label Creator's Snobbism instead. It goes something about like this:

If you create something, you owe it to yourself to not have the same kinds of consumption patterns as someone who just consumes. This doesn't mean you can't just kick back and mainline some Phineas & Ferb when the mood arises (and hey, everyone needs a vice), but you do need to be conscious of what putting any particular piece of "entertainment" into you will create.

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Tags: art creativity entertainment John Cage spirituality


So What'chu Want Dept.

"Write the book you want to read" also requires that you know what kind of book you really want to read. Not easy.


One of the standard pieces of advice that writers are given is "Write the book you want to read." This is great advice, but like all advice it has just as much potential to leave the recipient hidebound as it does to liberate him. It's no fun gnawing through straps you pulled into place yourself, trust me.

First, the good parts. It's always best to write the kind of book you want to read, because that increases the chances of you writing something that doesn't actually exist yet. If the kind of book you want to read can't be found on shelves, and you go through all the sweat'n'toil of bringing it into existence, that's a net win. You, and everyone else, get to enjoy the spoils. But ...

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Tags: creativity


Guardedly Successful Dept.

Why the success of 'Guardians of the Galaxy' was a two-edged sword.


Say, did I mention I saw Guardians of the Galaxy the other week? I was pleasantly surprised — the movie is a ton of fun —  although having that reaction isn't unexpected given how I walked in knowing nothing about the material or what approach was being taken with it. But it leaves me with decidedly mixed feelings.

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Tags: comics Hollywood movies


Brainsmanship Dept.

On the way we contrive our behavior to conform to the expectations of others, both good and bad.


Ads Don’t Work That Way | Melting Asphalt

Cultural imprinting is the mechanism whereby an ad, rather than trying to change our minds individually, instead changes the landscape of cultural meanings  — which in turn changes how we are perceived by others when we use a product. ... [A]n ad campaign seeds everyone with a basic image or message. Then it simply steps back and waits — not for its emotional message to take root and grow within your brain, but rather for your social instincts to take over, and for you to decide to use the product (or not) based on whether you're comfortable with the kind of cultural signals its brand image allows you to send.

I'm still on the fence about this theory as it relates to advertising, but it does square with something I think is too often neglected in human behavior: the way we contrive our behavior to conform to the expectations of others, both good and bad.

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Tags: advertising psychology sociology


Think, Thank, Thunk Dept.

Authors rarely impress me with the depth of their intellectual rigor, and I suspect that's because they don't see themselves as thinkers.


For ISIS, Slaughter Is an End in Itself - NYTimes.com

... I was given pause by Martin Amis’ afterword to his powerful new novel, “The Zone of Interest,” where he probes the “why” of Hitler and quotes both the icicle passage and another from Levi:

“Perhaps one cannot, what is more one must not, understand what happened, because to understand is almost to justify. Let me explain: ‘understanding’ a proposal or human behavior means to ‘contain’ it, contain its author, put oneself in his place, identify with him.” Levi, referring to Hitler, Himmler and the rest, goes on: “Perhaps it is desirable that their words (and also, unfortunately, their deeds) cannot be comprehensible to us. They are non-human words and deeds, really counter-human.”

Maybe Amis didn't intend this, but his words amount to a kind of anti-intellectualism — maybe better to say counter-intellectualism — of evil. It's OK that we can't understand it; it's better to just stand against it and get rid of it. Never mind that the whole point of understanding something is to know where it begins and where it ends, where it comes from and what it affects, and how best to attack it in the first place.

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Tags: art creativity philosophy


Welcome to the Fold: Wear Your Heart On Your Page Dept.

Why a compassionate writer is a better writer. (A somewhat roundabout discussion.)


In between working on Welcome to the Fold I've been gathering notes for the projects to come after it, many of which are not set in the here-and-now, but rather in some analogue of the past. I keep thinking of all the pitfalls involved in telling any story out of your time and place, it's the tone of the story that's one of the most underappreciated.

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Tags: psychology storytelling writing


It Ain't Me Dept.

Are you your characters? And should you apologize for them?


Rob Barba has a post in which he talks about not being apologetic for the excesses of one's characters. I think this goes almost entirely without saying: you are not your characters, and so just because you create people a certain way doesn't mean you are advocating the kind of people they are, etc.

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Tags: characters fiction writing


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