Monthly Archives: January 2012

Still Life with Cherubim

Circa 2005? White colored pencil / White charcoal on black.

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Crocotta

My filmmaker buddy down in Boulder, @TasteLikeApples, (yes, he actually has a name that’s not “my filmmaker buddy.” It’s AJ) is in his final semester in CU’s film program. And in this last semester, he’s required to complete a final project, bringing a project from conception, to script, to production and post. After reading and discussing my short story, Dreamland Crocotta, he decided that this would be an exciting project to adapt for the screen, and being a photography enthusiast and amateur filmmaker myself, I agreed.

Last semester he tooled around with the script, which is now in its later stages of the first draft, with various other forms of pre-production starting to fall into place. I’ll likely be Director of Photography and writerly consultant. The project is going to move fast, but I’m super pumped.

Indeed though this is an amateur film school project, I know that AJ brings the technical and artistic knowhow to the project to make this thing not only professional and tasteful, but a work of art that seeks to compliment and serve the story itself. The movie is called Crocotta.

If you want to follow AJ through the next five months of work on the project, he’ll be updating regularly at http://ajstreet4500.wordpress.com/. Drop in, give him some love and support, and watch this project bloom! I’m sure I’ll be posting regular updates here as well.

And if you haven’t read the story yet, and would like to, it’s free over at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/20276.

And this is a short, abstract, pretentious video he did adapting something short, abstract, and pretentious that I wrote from an earlier draft of Hallowtide.

And this is a vlog he did for the Saint Baldrick’s Foundation. If you’re interested in making a donation, the link is here; http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/AJStreet

Aaaaand this is a video of a guy in a zebra costume dancing in his yard.

You probably thought that Zebra was alive.

Apocalypse

Turns out I’ve got a little artist in me, too.

Circa, oh, 2005? Colored Pencil

The Problem (or lack thereof) with Apple’s Digital Publishing

Yesterday, Apple announced brand new software called the iBooks Author Program, which is an OS-X Program you can download in which authors or indie publishers can design and format digital books or textbooks for the ipad. This came on the heels of news about Apple’s new bookstore, where you can now buy textbooks on the ipad like any other books, often with cool new features, like interactive videos and demonstrations and whatnot.

More info on that can be found here; http://www.engadget.com/2012/01/19/apple-announces-ibooks-author-app-for-os-x/

But today I read an article tweeted by one of my more favorite authorly types earlier today here; http://www.zdnet.com/blog/bott/apples-mind-bogglingly-greedy-and-evil-license-agreement/4360?tag=nl.e539 about Apple’s EULA, the End User License Agreement (those pages and pages of text we all just click agree to and never think twice about).

What Apple has done with this new software is to say that legally, the book produced by this digital publishing app belongs to Apple if your book is priced other than free, and that the author gets a split of the profits 70/30. Which is essentially the same as app designers for the app store. The problem here is that Apple also reserves the right to deny your book publishing, to which you cannot then use the exported material from the app (which produces a file, just like a music file or a Word file) to then sell somewhere else on the web.

This book is different than your content. I’m a novelist and a writer. If I format my novel for digital publication on Apple’s website through their iBooks program, Apple only owns that file produced by their app, the “book,” not my content itself. I can still go publish my content as a new book in a different format all I want.

Why this is an issue: 

Hubbub arises because no other software puts these kinds of restrictions on the files produced. Microsoft does not say that you can’t use a powerpoint presentation because its through their software. This, critics say of Apple, is an unprecedented restriction, and is ultimately very, very greedy.

Also, people are misreading Apple’s legalities and think that if you publish your book through Apple, they take the rights to the entire content, which would mean you couldn’t sell it anywhere else, and so would mean if Apple turned down your work, you’d be screwed out of publishing your content. This isn’t true.

Why you would care:

Digital publishing is the future. Books aren’t going anywhere; there are too many fanatics who love that experience of reading a bound book, myself included. Legalities like this are paving way for the future of digital publishing, exclusivity, and the implications for independent writers and publishers. And if you’re an independent writer looking to take advantage of an easy publishing format, well–this is important.

But mostly this is a huge step in digital publishing, and many people think its an ugly one.

Why this isn’t a big deal:

Through zdnet, Ed Bott writes

Dan Wineman calls it “unprecedented audacity” on Apple’s part. For people like me, who write and sell books, access to multiple markets is essential. But that’s prohibited:

Apple, in this EULA, is claiming a right not just to its software, but to its software’s output. It’s akin to Microsoft trying to restrict what people can do with Word documents, or Adobe declaring that if you use Photoshop to export a JPEG, you can’t freely sell it to Getty. As far as I know, in the consumer software industry, this practice is unprecedented.

Point one: “Essential access to multiple markets” is only prohibited if you’re so lazy that Apple’s publishing software is your ONLY means of formatting your digital book.

Point two: In software this practice is unprecedented, perhaps, but not in the publishing world.

Apple is publishing a book that you took the time to format through their device. This is publishing. This is a business. In the world of real books, you send your material to a publisher, and they cut a deal for the rights to publish that book, and tell you that you can’t do it anywhere else until your contract is up.

Obviously digital publishing is a bit different, especially with all the variety of outlets and file formats. Nook, Kindle, and Apple all have different formats. (The market right now is essentially a slow-moving format war that really just needs to find a universal, the way that .mp3 finally took over for much of the music industry). Because anyone can format a digital file for free these days, there are no big publishing companies snatching up all your digital rights for only one format.

Apple isn’t even doing that. Which makes them less “greedy” than industry standard for print books.

But Bott continues:

The program allows you to export your work as plain text, with all formatting stripped. So you do have the option to take the formatting work you did in iBooks Author, throw it away, and start over. That is a devastating potential limitation for an author/publisher.

Devastating limitation? No savvy author or publisher would want to put all their eggs in one basket with Apple, and producing the only formatted copy of your book through Apple is just ignorant business. Also, it’s not that hard to reformat your book for other file types.

With digital publishing, sites that I use like smashwords.com tell the author how to format your story to be published on any number of digital devices, which the independent author then creates through Word, submits it to the independent digital publisher, who then turns it to downloadable content for most industry leading formats. This cuts out the middle man working for the company and leaves it to the author. It’s not that hard. For short stories, this can take an afternoon. For novels, perhaps a couple days. They distribute your work anywhere you like and take a small cut of the profits. You can also take the formatting elsewhere if you like.

But Bott continues:

I’m also hearing, but have not been able to confirm, that the program’s output is not compatible with the industry-standard EPUB format. Updated: An Apple support document notes that “¦iBooks uses the ePub file format” and later refers to it as “the industry-leading ePub digital book file type.” But iBooks Author will not export its output to that industry-leading format.

My longtime friend Giesbert Damaschke, a German author who has written numerous Apple-related books, says via Twitter that “iBA generates Epub (sort of): save as .ibooks, rename to .epub (won’t work with complex layouts, cover will be lost).” Even if that workaround produces a usable EPUB file, however, the license agreement would seem to explicitly prohibit using the resulting file for commercial purposes outside Apple’s store.

Of course this is the case! It’s Apple. It’s how they’ve always done it. Their files (which, doing a lot–containing images, videos, and audio as well as text–necessarily demand their own file type) are always for their own devices. Remember when iTunes first got big? .aac has always only worked on Apple devices. It’s always been their business strategy, this is no surprise. And of course if you change the format you’re going to lose your formatting. .Epub can’t handle this new file design. And of course Apple wouldn’t let anyone else sell their media outside their store. It’s Apple.

What the future looks like:

This situation is only a minor hiccup; people love to hate on big business crushing self-starting artists. No little man is being crushed. Any publisher or author who has any idea what they’re doing in the publishing world (even the brand, shiny, new digital one) knows better than to fall into whatever “problems” might come from using this software.

Apple might be setting a new standard here for book publishing, but it’s no different than what they’ve done for digital music.

Digital publishing is exciting. It makes publishing so easy for indie authors or publishers. Its wicked cheap. What we authors need is an industry-leading format and marketplace, the go-to place for digital stories the way iTunes and Amazon are the go-to places for music downloading. We need somewhere that new authors can introduce new material, and where, if it’s good, it will thrive.

This well could be Apple. I hope it’s Apple. iTunes is great and this needs to happen for authors as soon as possible. And this new way to get published is easy and should be celebrated. The legalities are only a limitation for lazy authors who don’t want to format for the rest of the market right now and don’t understand that this is still publishing. It just looks a little different.

What Scares You?

Thoughts? Comments? Leave ’em down below!

Devil Inside Review

(Just so’s you know. Horror movies on premiere nights must be marketed to drunk college asshats who seem to think they’re in Mystery Science Theater. But I’ve endured it again. For you guys. You know. Cuz I’m the hero you need. And deserve. (What? Think the Batman joke is getting old? I’m still being your hero. That doesn’t just stop. (Even Batman stays Gotham’s deserved hero eight years later. (Spoiler). Hell. Even after he’s dead. (Bigger spoiler). (well, maybe. We’ll see in July).

So, Devil Inside.

Another possession movie with a promising start, another possession movie with a letdown finish. (Sex joke there? I think so. Let this be a lesson to you, never get involved with possessed people. Venkman knew what the hell he was talking about)

Turns out the movie was a bit more found footage style than I’d suspected from the trailer’s mash up of styles, but in a way that immediately set a fine standard, blending the found footage with a pseudo-documentary style that established a commentary on the story early on, reflecting on such issues as hereditary illnesses, the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church, whether possession is a reality or a mental disorder, and as always, the layperson discovering a kind of hidden world. Symbols to boot too. Our first solid glimpse at an exorcism is in the basement of a family’s home.

But as is seemingly too typical of the genre, the writers are quickly possessed with the demons they’re scribbling and drop the ball (maybe not on their foot as hard as the Last Exorcism, but they do their best (though, gauging by the audience reaction as the credits faded in, they might disagree with me, but I think abrupt endings aren’t nearly as ridiculous as shark-jumping). The movie never takes off in the same was that the Rite or Last Exorcism never took off.

If you’re a fan of very visual and violent scares from something otherworldly, you’ll probably be a fan. If exorcism movies are your thing, you’ll be fine. If you dug the paranormal activity movies, there’s a bit of everything to go around in this one, (only with the violence ratcheted up to oh, eleven).

But I think my biggest problem is here–and continues to be–that my hopes for these movies is not in some critical fantasy, some ideal that’s unable to be matched. With women, perhaps, but here I’ve seen it. Movies to me aren’t purely emotional experiences, but intellectual experiences, and a good story is not one designed to evoke a single emotion, but to elicit a wide range, most borne on the deeper layers, so that the more you probe the movie, the more you probe into your own ethical, philosophical, political, emotional, and spiritual levels. I don’t think this is too much to ask, to demand. I just want a fucking good story. That’s why you’re paid in the tens of thousands of dollars. Or more.

Sure, horror movies are good for evoking a fright the same way that comedies these days are good for a laugh (two if you’re lucky), but lowering the bar shouldn’t be justification. You can still have a frightening movie with a strong story, thematic arches, narrative dialogue, and cosmological conflict. Hell, Black Swan, one of my most loved movies was damn frightening and it’s just a drama.

Maybe my problem is furthered, and my soap box too easily assembled, when we’re set up for something that could be brilliant. That the pieces were there. There was depth here. You’ve introduced it. you’ve shown us your palette of paint, now doodle us a happy little tree.

You, writers of Devil Inside, provide us your elements. We’ve got potential for discussion of whether or not demons can be passed through family lines the same way as is said of sin, starting in the Garden of Eden, or the same way pathological issues can be passed from parent to child. What about the hypocrisy of the Church? What’s the line between right and wrong? What of politics? When is the necessity for governing structure more important than helping people? And what about the faith of the exorcist? You can’t tell me that wasn’t one of the crucial elements when you introduce two rebel exorcists who are trying to do God’s work while not operating fully with the Church. I mean, possession in the West right now is fundamentalist religious fodder. If you deny your overarching religion, how are you supposed to combat its enemies? Are you one of them, an enemy, for disagreeing with the doctrine alone? That’s a big issue! Our demon here never even mentioned it.

It’s like the writers were skimming along in Martin’s Hostage to the Devil and failed to understand the dramatic significance of a crisis of faith in the face of Satan himself in favor of “oh look! Demons can jump from person to person! That’ll be the exciting core of our movie, cuz that’s never been done before!” (Meanwhile Denzel Washington and John Goodman are all like HELL NAW.)

The formula is provided for a discussion that could push a thematic and political arc through the interviews that structure the beginning of the movie. The debates can continue beyond the classroom scene. It worked for Danielewski in House of Leaves and Langan’s House of Windows. There’s nothing wrong with taking the time to analyze your frights. It can amplify it if done right. Indeed, this is the point of documentary filmmaking, to study different opinions by literate people. It makes it more real, not only in feel and character, but within ourselves as moviegoers. But thirty minutes in, these interviews are dropped in favor of Blair-Witch Eqsue confessions. Which, yes, serve their own purpose, and chronicle the decay of the movie and characters, but hey, let’s not decay what’s truly working at the same time.

(Okay, spoiler in that this isn’t what happened, yes), but why couldn’t you end the movie with even a monologue from one of the possessed characters? This alone would be more satisfying than what we were left with, but it also would break that fourth wall and bring the movie to the audience. What more perfect way to end a documentary-style movie? “Interview” the demon last. Leave words from the darkness hanging for the folks at home.

I’ve been on my soapbox, indeed. But time after time, hollywood is churning out these possession movies in a culture of Saw and Paranormal Activity filmgoers, stringing us along with half-cocked films like Last Exorcism and the Rite, and they expect that scares alone should be the bar, and that’s bullshit. Horror, possession, exorcism, a clash of ideologies that isn’t a sermon or an editorial is refreshing, exciting, and can be downright terrifying. The genre is so ripe that the possibilities just leak from the script before a screaming, torn up woman rolls her eyes into her head and the special effects crew gets giddy over a swinging POV shot.

I’m not going to stop seeing these movies because I think it’s not that hard to continue a discussion, and I have to believe somebody will finally do it. But it’s damn frustrating to keep spending my money on it.

But I want to know what you guys think, too. Are you content with the scares? Would it ruin your movie-going experience to have a little depth with your scares? Would that even amplify it? Am I wrong here? Is there nothing wrong with genre? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the movie too if you go see it, too. Lemme know in the comments below!