From Kindling to Kindle

Will the future of reading affect the future of writing?

James Joyce, it is said, became so disgruntled while drafting his first novel that he threw it on the fire. His girlfriend rescued the work-in-progress from the flames, and the subsequent rewrite became A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Such acts of literary self-immolation and redemption could only occur in our once-analog world, when the permanence of erasure moved only as fast as fire. These days, the irreversible deletion of one’s work is a mere keystroke away.

That said, it seems would-be authors are more apt to hit the “publish” key on their blogs than the “delete” key on their magnum opus. Future literary historians will decide whether this has been a positive trend for the world of letters. Of the 100 million?plus blogs in existence, it’s unclear how many purport to be literature, let alone how many actually are. Nevertheless, entire industries have arisen to support the notion one’s blog could be a book, turning aspirants into authors with a click and credit card?at least for now.

Print-on-demand services like San Francisco?based Blurb will print the next Joyce a “Blog Book” for a percentage of that book’s sale to the author or his readers, in as many or as few copies as desired. Blurb has even automated the process with a program that “slurps” a blog’s content from its online habitu? and excretes it in the shape of a book when ordered online. Likewise, online retail juggernaut Amazon provides a similar service, CreateSpace, an on-demand clearinghouse for everything DIY, from books to DVDs. It is a micro-mogul’s mecca for the manufacture of media.

Now print-on-demand might prove to be a transitional technology the same way DVDs are giving way to digital downloads. Amazon claims 35 percent of its book sales are downloads for its Kindle “wireless reading device.” In March, cult brand Apple will overshoot the electronic book fray with the iPad, which aggregates print, video and music enjoyment into a single, sexy device.

Be assured, publishers and independent authors alike are readying their wares for Apple’s latest game-changer, which is an overgrown iPhone sans telephony. But who wants to take a call while in the thrall of a warm, glowing piece of technology anyway? It’s like a vibrator for the mind, and a throng of independent content producers hopes to get you off.

In the olden days of digital reading, circa 2000, premium content was scarce. Beyond being deskbound, the only texts available seemed to be classics poached from the public domain, Joyce included. Occasional experiments in electronic-book marketing came and went, with business ebooks and white papers seeming most prevalent. The transformation of print-to-pixel was a trickle with publishers wary or unsure of the medium, though pixel-to-print releases were garnering wider appeal and stoking dreams of digital discovery for thousands of would-be authors (blog-borne Julie/Julia is a popular example). Publisher HarperCollins even created Authonomy, an online authors community from which it occasionally cherry-picks and publishes material vetted by the crowd.

Now, however, it seems a new type of author is poised to emerge, one tailored to the new medium literally at hand, whose work will bypass traditional publishers and appear in the iTunes store, forsaking the bookshelf entirely. Pictures in printed books must have once been a novelty?moving pictures embedded in the text of your iPad is an inevitability, not to mention audio, three-dimensional maps, animated sidebars and other electronic illuminations. How will this amplify or diminish storytelling as we know it? A fear is that mutant transmedia hybrids might obviate established forms or at least leave them marginalized in the market in which a bestseller and killer app are one and the same.

What seems most uncertain is whether how we read will affect how we write. This will have to be determined in the field, for not even a visionary such as Joyce could have anticipated someone cuddling up with his words “In the silence their dark fire kindled the dusk into a tawny glow” from the glow of a tawny Kindle.

Will the future of reading affect the future of writing?

James Joyce, it is said, became so disgruntled while drafting his first novel that he threw it on the fire. His girlfriend rescued the work-in-progress from the flames, and the subsequent rewrite became A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Such acts of literary self-immolation and redemption could only occur in our once-analog world, when the permanence of erasure moved only as fast as fire. These days, the irreversible deletion of one’s work is a mere keystroke away.

That said, it seems would-be authors are more apt to hit the “publish” key on their blogs than the “delete” key on their magnum opus. Future literary historians will decide whether this has been a positive trend for the world of letters. Of the 100 million?plus blogs in existence, it’s unclear how many purport to be literature, let alone how many actually are. Nevertheless, entire industries have arisen to support the notion one’s blog could be a book, turning aspirants into authors with a click and credit card?at least for now.

Print-on-demand services like San Francisco?based Blurb will print the next Joyce a “Blog Book” for a percentage of that book’s sale to the author or his readers, in as many or as few copies as desired. Blurb has even automated the process with a program that “slurps” a blog’s content from its online habitu? and excretes it in the shape of a book when ordered online. Likewise, online retail juggernaut Amazon provides a similar service, CreateSpace, an on-demand clearinghouse for everything DIY, from books to DVDs. It is a micro-mogul’s mecca for the manufacture of media.

Now print-on-demand might prove to be a transitional technology the same way DVDs are giving way to digital downloads. Amazon claims 35 percent of its book sales are downloads for its Kindle “wireless reading device.” In March, cult brand Apple will overshoot the electronic book fray with the iPad, which aggregates print, video and music enjoyment into a single, sexy device.

From Kindling to Kindle

Be assured, publishers and independent authors alike are readying their wares for Apple’s latest game-changer, which is an overgrown iPhone sans telephony. But who wants to take a call while in the thrall of a warm, glowing piece of technology anyway? It’s like a vibrator for the mind, and a throng of independent content producers hopes to get you off.

In the olden days of digital reading, circa 2000, premium content was scarce. Beyond being deskbound, the only texts available seemed to be classics poached from the public domain, Joyce included. Occasional experiments in electronic-book marketing came and went, with business ebooks and white papers seeming most prevalent. The transformation of print-to-pixel was a trickle with publishers wary or unsure of the medium, though pixel-to-print releases were garnering wider appeal and stoking dreams of digital discovery for thousands of would-be authors (blog-borne Julie/Julia is a popular example). Publisher HarperCollins even created Authonomy, an online authors community from which it occasionally cherry-picks and publishes material vetted by the crowd.

Future of Writing

Now, however, it seems a new type of author is poised to emerge, one tailored to the new medium literally at hand, whose work will bypass traditional publishers and appear in the iTunes store, forsaking the bookshelf entirely. Pictures in printed books must have once been a novelty?moving pictures embedded in the text of your iPad is an inevitability, not to mention audio, three-dimensional maps, animated sidebars and other electronic illuminations. How will this amplify or diminish storytelling as we know it? A fear is that mutant transmedia hybrids might obviate established forms or at least leave them marginalized in the market in which a bestseller and killer app are one and the same.

What seems most uncertain is whether how we read will affect how we write. This will have to be determined in the field, for not even a visionary such as Joyce could have anticipated someone cuddling up with his words “In the silence their dark fire kindled the dusk into a tawny glow” from the glow of a tawny Kindle.

Life of Making

Life of Making from Daedalus Howell | FMRL on Vimeo.

A complement to an exhibit at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art of the same title, this short documentary similarly celebrates the work and workings of three internationally acclaimed artists who explore the boundary between the act of making and the art of living. Jim Melchert, June Schwarcz, and Kay Sekimachi have each worked for decades to integrate the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of engagement with their respective process and materials. Curated by Kate Eilertsen; directed by Daedalus Howell.

Beware of Fauxnoma

Defining the “Sonoma lifestyle” can be an elusive proposition, especially since its interpretation is often left to marketers and PR flaks who draw from warmed-over notions of Napa from under a setting Tuscan sun.

This is something I’m called upon to do, both professionally and socially, with some regularity. The former I can usually accomplish with some plug-n-play boilerplate (see above – I keep reams of this crap at the ready). However, I find that people tend to bristle when my eyes glaze like I’d just been shown the queen of hearts in the original “Manchurian Candidate” and recite “Sonoma is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful town I’ve ever known in my life.” Anyway, the fact is, I believe in our fair hamlet, our bucolic burg is the gem of Sonoma County. I also believe that we’re not properly managing the hard-earned equity we’ve built over generations into our brand, which is being siphoned from us not just by the sundry products I have occasion to lambaste in this space (heinous example: Boston-based Crabtree and Evelyn, Ltd. owns the trademark “Sonoma Valley”), but by our neighbors throughout the county that bears our name – what I like to call “Fauxnoma.”

But you say, “Daedalus, you L.A. burnout, you’re always bandying marketing terms around. This is where I live, not a media conspiracy – why should I care?” Listen, I care because Sonoma County is where I was born and raised and where I’ve witnessed systematic erosion of its natural charm in quarters such as my hometown of Petaluma, which a single developer has transformed into a riverfront strip mall. You should care because your homes, businesses and lifestyle experience will see diminished value as the creep of unchecked exploitation of the Sonoma premise continues. More importantly, we love it here. Don’t we? This week, the results of a study conducted by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index determined that Sonoma County ranks first in the state of California and fifth in the nation for “well-being.” Perhaps this will help add a zero or two back onto the perceived value of our homes. Or perhaps this will incentivize the powers that be that the town of Sonoma should join the rest of the county in contributing to the Sonoma County Business Improvement Area (BIA) Assessment, lest Rohnert Park, Windsor and Petaluma’s sprawling east side seize upon the mantle of “The Happiest Place in California” – the headline cresting the Press Democrat’s story about the study.

Participation in the BIA would add an additional 2 percent hotel tax, passed on to visitors of our local hotels and would allow the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau to assert its estimable marketing efforts on our behalf. Of course, in the interest of full disclosure, permit me to remind you that I am Sonoma County’s Lifestyle Ambassador and produce and host an ongoing video series for the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau.

In this capacity, what I find particularly galling is that I’m not permitted to showcase the wonder of our local attractions to the world because the Isle of Sonoma doesn’t contribute. The irony is stinging, particularly when I live and work in a town of such tremendous beauty and have to trundle my crew to the next towns over to celebrate their wines, hotels, spas, restaurants, etc. Be assured, I’m not merely complaining about my commute, I’m worried that the opportunity cost will eventually bite us in the ass.

And note, this is not to deny or allay the efforts of our local visitors bureau – this should be a complement, a wheels within wheels strategy that functions as a perpetual awareness machine. Please note, currently, the towns of Sonoma and Healdsburg are the only holdouts from the countywide program. This is the same Healdsburg, mind you, that was featured in the Wine Spectator a couple of years back with the headline, “The New Sonoma.” With headlines like that who needs frenemies?

Redrum!

Finally, someone found a justification for film school. What seems to be an attempt at Valentine?s Day marketing in Petaluma, CA, reads surprisingly like an entreaty to homicide. ?Redrum? occupies a special place in our culture thanks to Stanley Kubrick?s take on ?The Shining? and the crooked index finger of a child actor Danny Lloyd. Had the sign letterer known the provenance of the term, vis-?-vis ?History of American Cinema 101,? I bet they would have found ?Come play with us forever? more apt for eternal love.