Sunday, December 28, 2014

Photographing Central Park in Winter

It's only been in the past few weeks that I've once again begun carrying my camera with me on my walks through Central Park.  The challenge is to find shots that haven't already been taken a million times over by visiting tourists.  I've found the best solution is to get close to the smaller details, especially the season's faded greenery.  The plant life has a monochrome beauty all its own at this time of year that in many ways is more photogenic than springtime's bright flowering.  I took both these photos on Christmas Day.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Publishing an Ebook on Barnes & Noble's Nook Press

Like Amazon, Barnes & Noble offers an ebook self-publishing program that allows authors to place their work online.  Formerly called PubIt!, it has now apparently been renamed Nook Press.

Before beginning the process, I once again took my MS Word document and converted it in Calibre, this time to an epub file, B&N's native format for its Nook reader.  I was then able to look at the new document in the Kindle Previewer to make sure it had been correctly formatted.  In so doing, I found that Word's justified paragraph alignment does not always convert properly, at least not as can be seen in Previewer, and so I revised the original Word document to make all text paragraphs left aligned.  For good measure, I removed the automatic hyphenation as well.

After having gone online and registered (having made sure to use a secure password), I was prompted to upload the manuscript.  I submitted the epub file and was given the opportunity to review it in B&N's online Nook reader.  Everything appeared fine as far as I could see.

I then uploaded the cover image.  In order to do so, I first had to go to Adobe Photoshop and downsize the cover image I had previously submitted to Amazon.  The maximum file size allowed by B&N is limited to 2 mb.  

Once the manuscript and cover had been uploaded, I was prompted to provide the standard book information.  First I was asked to give a title and description.  Secondly, I was asked for the category and subcategory, keywords, language and audience.  The audience category was broken down into children, young adults, general adult and mature adult.

When I prepared to go to the next screen to set a price, I was told I must first submit my vendor information.  This was a two-step process.  First, I created an author profile complete with my photograph.  Secondly, I entered my tax ID and banking data.  A popup then appeared stating that the bank account information would be verified within 72 hours.

I then had to click "Projects" on the overhead menu to return to the pricing screen.  Here I verified that I held worldwide rights and said "no" to DRM (Digital Rights Management encryption to prevent unauthorized copying).  I kept the price the same as that charged on Amazon, of course, since it would make no sense at all to price the same book differently from one online store to the next.

On the next screen, I verified that my work was not in the public domain, was not part of a series and was not currently available in print.

Finally, I was asked to provide editorial reviews, if any.  This step is optional.

Once all this had been completed, I clicked "Publish" but again saw the notice that my bank account information would be verified within 72 hours.  It is not possible to publish on B&N until this verification has been completed.  In the event, it only took about 18 hours for B&N to send me an email announcing that the information had been verified and that I was cleared to publish.  I then returned to B&N's website and clicked "Publish" once again.

When I returned to the "Projects" page and clicked on the book title under the heading "Project Name," I first saw a popup that indicated my request was being processed.  When I tried again several hours later, the popup stated "This NOOK Book is available for sale" and provided the B&N Identifier number.  Nothing else needed to be done after that.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Publishing an Ebook on Amazon

I'm not going to detail here all the steps involved in publishing an ebook on Amazon.  For the most part, that is covered not only in Publishing E-Books for Dummies which I've previously reviewed but also in the step-by-step instructions provided on Amazon itself.  Listed below are only a few comments based on my own experience that might facilitate the process for those not already familiar with it.

When arriving at Amazon's Kindle portal, it's first necessary to register and set up an account.  I would here point out the obvious - since in the process of establishing an account one must necessarily submit sensitive personal information (legal name, address, Social Security number, bank account number, etc.) it is most important to choose a secure password.  I advise using one that is unique, i.e., one that differs from those used for entry to other websites.

Amazon takes care of the tax information first.  Until this is done, not only can one not publish anything with Amazon, but there will be an annoying reminder shown every time one signs onto the site that the necessary information has not yet been provided.  Submitting the required data, though, is more than just a formality to be hurriedly breezed through.  The information collected at each step will in the end be used to complete IRS form W-9 (which can be printed out once finished), and one will be required to certify to the accuracy of that form.  As with any IRS filing, great care should therefore be taken to ascertain that everything set forth is honest and correct.

While still on the "Your Account" page, it is a good idea to at this point enter one's banking information - name, routing number and account number - so that one can be paid by Amazon for sales of published books.  Once the bank account information has been verified, Amazon will provide by country a list of the "supported marketplaces" for that particular banking institution.

After these initial steps, one can proceed to the business at hand of actually placing the ebook online.  Again, Amazon will walk one through the process.  There are, however, a few points which should be taken into account before beginning this procedure.

First, though an ebook can be submitted in MS Word format, it is much less troublesome to submit one's manuscript as a mobi file.  This is the native format used by Amazon and the one to which Word documents must eventually be converted if they are to be read on a Kindle.  The advantage to submitting a mobi file is that one can preview it beforehand (using the Kindle Reader that can be downloaded for free from Amazon) in order to make sure the document is properly formatted.  There are certain MS Word features (dropped caps, for example) that do not convert properly and give a jumbled appearance to the ebook if not edited.  It saves a lot of time and frustration if one downloads the free software from Calibre, does the conversion oneself, and then uploads the mobi file to Amazon once one is satisfied with its appearance on the Kindle Reader.

Secondly, one should already have prepared a cover for the ebook before publishing it.  The cover must be a color image in either tiff or jpg format and of sufficient size.  A very basic cover can quickly and easily be created in Adobe Photoshop, but sufficient consideration should be given to its appearance since it is on the basis of this one image that most potential readers will make their decision whether or not to purchase the book.

Third, one should decide before publishing how much to charge for one's work.  Authors will receive maximum royalties (70%) if they price their book between $2.99 and $9.99.  As I was more interested in attracting readers than in generating income, at least in the case of my first novel, I chose to go to the low end and charge $2.99.

Finally, authors will be invited to join the Kindle Select program when publishing their work on Amazon.  After I had carefully reviewed the Terms of Service and weighed both the benefits and restrictions that are entailed in joining this program, I decided that it was not worth it for me.  Other authors may, of course, feel differently.  In any event, one should read Amazon's documentation carefully before making a choice.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

More Photos from Central Park

I'm posting here several photographs I took last month while walking through Central Park.  More photos can be viewed on my Fine Arts America page where prints are also available for purchase.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Review: Publishing E-Books for Dummies

I had already read Publishing E-Books for Dummies by Ali Luke early last year when first planning to publish a novel online.   I was then at work on another piece of fiction with which I have since grown dissatisfied and decided to shelve.  At that time, however, I found Luke's book extremely informative and so decided to reread it in its entirety when recently preparing my novel New York Sonata for placement on Amazon.

In spite of its obnoxious title (how I loathe paying money to a publisher that refers to its customers as "dummies"), Publishing E-Books is actually as comprehensive a guide as one could hope for when initially approaching Amazon and other self-publishing sites.  Luke's style is thoroughly engaging and easy to read as she guides the novice writer in this often confusing task.  She offers a number of strategies and tips I probably would never have thought of on my own.

The book is divided into six parts.  The first, "Getting to Know E-Books," is very basic and mostly common sense.  Still, those who are considering ebook publication will find it an encouraging introduction to the subject.  The second part, "Creating Your E-Book," is far more useful as it delves into the mechanics involved in preparing a book for online publication.  Contained here are instructions for properly formatting a manuscript in MS Word and for saving it as a pdf file.  Also included in this section are chapters which were not of immediate interest to me but might be helpful to other authors.  One dealt with designing a cover on a budget (I'm a photographer and am already knowledgeable in the use of Adobe Photoshop) and the other with using Apple iBooks Author (for those creating multimedia works on a Mac platform).  The chapter I found most useful for my own purposes was the one that explained in detail the process of converting Word files to epub (native format used by Barnes & Noble) and mobi (native format used by Amazon) through the use of Calibre, a free program that accomplishes this task quickly and easily and of whose existence I had previously been unaware.

By far, the most useful part of Publishing E-Books is Section IV, "Selling Your E-Book."  Here are located the essential step-by-step instructions one must follow in order to actually place a book with online publishers.  I found this information invaluable when first signing on to Amazon's KDP site.  The book guided me through the entire process so that I was able to quickly and efficiently establish an account, upload my novel and then complete the Amazon author page.  The next chapter dealt with Smashwords, a site designed to simultaneously place an author's work with a number of online publishers (excluding Amazon itself) while requiring from the writer only the submission of a single Word file with highly simplified formatting.  I had used the Smashwords site once before when publishing a short photo book, though, and was not really satisfied with it.  Aside from Barnes & Noble, the publishers with which Smashwords is affiliated are generally too marginal to be worth the effort, and I have so far not bothered with it for the publication of my novel.  In retrospect, I think it would have been far more useful if Luke had instead provided instructions for publishing on Barnes & Noble directly and had skipped the middleman.  (Luke herself may not have gone this route because she is located in the UK and mentioned in passing that it is necessary to have a US bank account in order to publish on B&N.)

The remaining sections of Publishing E-Books were of varying interest to me.  While Part III, "Creating Your Website," does contain sufficient information to enable one to set up a very basic website using WordPress, most readers will want a more detailed guide to the subject and a fuller choice of both software and hosts.  Part V, "Marketing Your E-Book," did contain a number of highly useful tips for promoting an ebook on Amazon.  It also introduced me in detail to the Goodreads site which is probably the only form of social media I will end up using for marketing purposes.  Here again I found the step-by-step instructions extremely helpful.  There is a similar chapter devoted to the use of Facebook and Twitter, but the inordinate amount of time required to effectively market a work on these sites makes them for me a far less desirable choice.  (I admit here to being one of the few people on the planet not already registered with either one.)  The final section, "The Part of Tens," which I take to be a standard feature of the "Dummies" series, is almost entirely useless as the "articles" contained therein are too short - only a paragraph or two in length - to be of any real assistance.

The bottom line is that I'd strongly recommend this book to any writer considering self-publishing an ebook for the first time.  It is a great help in understanding what's involved and in simplifying the entire procedure.  The chapters regarding Amazon are alone worth the purchase price.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope everyone has a wonderful time today.  I have cause enough to celebrate myself after having published my first novel just last week.

Friday, November 21, 2014

My First Novel Published on Amazon

I'm very excited to announce that I've just published my first novel, New York Sonata, as an ebook.  It is currently available for purchase on Amazon.  This is for me the realization of a creative ambition I first conceived decades ago while still an undergraduate English lit major at Fordham University long before I began my career as a photographer.

I hope you'll order the novel at the link shown below and enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Monday, November 17, 2014

DxO FilmPack 3

This past August I took advantage of a promotional offer from DxO that allowed me to download a free copy of FilmPack 3, an older version of the software it currently offers.  It was a fully functional package and installed easily on my computer.  As I have not been shooting very much at all this year, it was only this past week that I finally had an opportunity to test it out.  While this is not a program that offers many features, that very fact makes it extremely easy to use.  The interface is intuitive, and no manual is required.

Film emulation software is not the type of program I would normally acquire.  As a traditional photographer, I've always believed it far better to shoot on film itself rather than to try to mimic its look digitally.  Though many famous films such as Kodachrome have been discontinued in recent years, there are still plenty of options available for photographers to explore.  Attempting to simulate a given look on a computer screen when it can still be achieved through traditional means seems inauthentic and something of a cheat.

I cannot say how exactly the effects in FilmPack reproduce the look of any given film named.  (The program lists a total of 22 color transparency films, 10 color negative films, 21 black and white films as well as 2 color cross processing effects.)  In order to do so conclusively, I would first need to shoot the same subject on both film and digital, apply the DxO filter to the digital, and then compare the result to that shot on film.  That's much too time consuming a process to be feasible.  I did note, however, that some of the effects rendered onscreen did not seem to match the appearance of certain films as I remembered them.

Rather than regard the various effects as replications of the appearance of actual films, I found it made more sense to treat them instead as plug-in filters analogous to those native to Adobe Photoshop that were designed to create an "artistic" look.  By simply previewing each film type on any given image, I found it I could achieve some pleasing effects quite easily.  As with the Photoshop filters themselves, though, these can rapidly become cliched if used repeatedly.

The current version of the software is FilmPack 5.  Those photographers interested in experimenting with it can, as of today's date, only do so by downloading the trial version of OpticsPro 10 directly from the DxO website.  The site promises that "[FilmPack 5] Plugins for Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements, and Apple Aperture, as well as the ESSENTIAL and ELITE editions of the standalone application for Mac and PC, will be available starting in mid-November."  No exact date has yet been given.

The photos above show various effects that can be obtained using FilmPack 3.  Greatly enlarged versions of the lower two images can be viewed on my Fine Arts America page where prints are  also available for purchase.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Submitting a Novel for US Copyright

Yesterday afternoon, I submitted my recently completed novel New York Sonata to the US Copyright Office.  Although I hardly think so literary a work as mine would be a likely target for theft or misappropriation, I believe copyright protection is essential before publishing any work, either in print or online, and should be the first step an author takes after putting his work in final form.  Once one is familiar with the procedure, it's a relatively simple and inexpensive process.

Before going to the government's Copyright website, it's necessary to put one's work in a format that will be acceptable for submission.  Proprietary formats, such as MS Word's .doc, are not acceptable.  A list of acceptable formats is provided on the website itself, but for most fiction authors the simplest choice will be .pdf.  This is now an "open" format that Adobe has made available for general use and can be implemented from within later versions of Word itself by simple using the "Save As" option from the File menu.  Pdf documents can also be created from within Adobe InDesign CS6, of which I am a registered user, but this is a complex program and something of an overkill if all one needs to do is save a simple text document.  Whichever program one chooses, it is important that one have the document formatted to one's satisfaction before saving it as a pdf since doing so will more of less "freeze" its appearance as shown on the computer screen.  It is also extremely important to ascertain after saving it as a pdf that the newly formatted document can be opened without problem in Adobe Reader.  The copyright office will not issue a certificate for a document that cannot be opened nor will it give a refund in cases of a defective submissions.

I have previously reviewed on this blog The Photographer's Survival Manual by Edward C. Greenberg and Jack Reznicki.  Although intended as a guide for photographers, this excellent book contains exact step-by-step instructions for online submissions that can be used just as well by authors applying for protection for a literary work.  I highly recommend it having it at hand the first time one places a work with the Copyright Office.  Doing so will will effectively solve any initial confusion entailed in the process.  As most users are aware, government websites are not always the easiest to navigate.

There have been some changes in copyright procedures since the Survival Manual was first published.  The most noteworthy of these is the change in fee structure effective as of May 1, 2014.  The $35 basic fee is still in place but only if one is submitting a single work (e.g., a single novel, a single short story or a single photograph).  Before beginning the copyright procedure, the applicant must now answer three questions certifying that this is a single work, that he/she is the sole author, and finally that he is the only one to hold rights to the work (i.e., that this is not a "work for hire").  While the new fees entail a slight additional cost (an extra $20) for photographers, who routinely submit hundreds of photos in one session, an author seeking to copyright only his one novel should normally still be eligible for the lower rate.  It's important, though, to present one's work in such a manner that it is clear to anyone that this really is a single work and not some type of anthology.  If the government reviewer believes the applicant is trying to submit additional works in the same session no matter how he may have answered the above three questions, this will entail not only the payment of the additional fee but a delay in the already lengthy processing time as well.  Just to be on the safe side, I made sure the pdf I submitted contained only the text of the novel itself without any cover (which contains one of my photographs) or even so basic a supplement as an "About the Author" section.  

If a work has been properly submitted, it should be covered by copyright protection on the day the Office receives it, i.e., the date the work is uploaded in the online session.  It usually takes, however, at least six months before the official certificate is actually mailed to the applicant at the address he has provided.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and am not able to offer legal opinions.  The above is based on my own experience and is provided for informational purposes only.  Those with questions on copyright law and/or procedures should contact a qualified attorney.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Approaches to Writing #4: Characterization through Setting

I opened the main narrative of my novel New York Sonata at a concert I attended myself early this year at the Sharp Theater in Lincoln Center.  It was part of a Juilliard Focus series that featured the work of late twentieth century composers from the former USSR.  Although there was a full house at the actual performance, it was - even for many classical music lovers - an obscure program.  No matter that Arvo Pärt has been named, according to The Bachtrack Stats 2013, "the most performed contemporary composer in the world for three years in a row."  His work is simply not very well known to members of the general public.  But that was the whole point.

By using this setting, I immediately provided to the reader a characterization of my protagonist before he spoke even a single word of dialog.  If he were attending a concert such as this in the first place, he was obviously someone with a knowledge of "serious" music that extended well beyond such favorites as Mozart and Beethoven.  He was also likely to be viewed by the reader as a well educated, and most likely fairly affluent, New Yorker.  In other words, simply by choosing the appropriate setting with which to open the narrative, I provided a great deal of information about my lead character without having to trouble spelling it out in tedious detail.  Creating valid expectations in the reader's mind is not only a more subtle form of characterization but less time consuming as well.

Setting also helps define the tone of the novel.  In the case of my own novel, I am attempting a work that is both literary and high minded to the extent that it examines the nature of genius among creative artists.  It only stands to reason that an audience interested in such a subject must itself necessarily be cultured and well educated.  These are people who read literature as well as popular fiction, who subscribe to concerts at Carnegie Hall and operas at the Met and who regularly visit art galleries and museums.  If I had instead been attempting a genre novel that would reach the widest possible audience and hopefully become a bestseller, I would not have used this particular opening because it would most probably "turn off" those readers seeking entertainment rather than serious subject matter.  While my choice must inevitably narrow down the number of those interested in purchasing the novel, at the same time I am hoping that it will attract those most appreciative of my intentions.

It's important when setting a scene and choosing locations in a novel, most especially in the early part of the story, that these be appropriate to the characters described.  In my own novel, the protagonist is a young classical pianist and it's therefore entirely fitting he should be attending an event such that held at Juilliard.  If I had instead chosen, for example, to open the story at a hip hop concert at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn the reader would have been expecting not only an entirely different plot and locale but a far different character as well.  I would later have experienced a great deal of trouble in continuing the characterization of my protagonist because I would have first had to correct the initial misapprehensions as to his background and social position.  In the end, the reader would have been confused by the conflicting information and would likely have lost interest in the story itself.

I'm certainly not the first author to have thought of this device.  In her 1921 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton set the opening scene at an opera performance held in the 1870's at the old Academy of Music on 14th Street.  Once again, this was an entirely appropriate choice as the novel dealt with how, to quote Wikipedia, "the 19th-century East Coast American upper class lived."

Finally, the setting chosen not only provides a great deal of information about the characters, it also - for better or worse - paints a picture of the author himself.  The reader assumes that the author (unless he or she is writing a work of fantasy set in an imaginary world) is familiar with the settings he makes use of in his novel.  Since it is only common sense that the author should indeed have had some actual experience of the world he describes, this is a perfectly fair assumption on the reader's part.  To use the examples given above, the reader will form a much different impression of an author who sets his work at a Juilliard recital rather than at a hip hop concert.  An author who wishes to build his audience - and which one doesn't? - should always seek to provide an image of himself, no matter how nebulous it may be, with which readers can identify and with which they feel comfortable.  This may be one reason a "literary" author such as John Banville chooses to write his genre works - which, incidentally, are excellent - under the pseudonym Benjamin Black.  He obviously wishes to keep the two identities distinct from one another.
"He appreciates his work as Black as a craft, while as Banville he is an artist. He considers crime writing, in his own words, as being 'cheap fiction'."
And Banville is but one example from a long list.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Approaches to Writing #3: Organizing Your Work

In an earlier post, I mentioned in passing Jack Kerouac's remarkable feat in typing the entire first draft of On The Road onto a single roll of mimeograph paper.  The irony is that no matter how "cool" such a trick may have appeared during the 1950's Beat era, it can only seem to us today hopelessly antiquated.  The obvious advantage twenty-first century novelists have over their predecessors is the ability to write and edit their works with the help of word processing software.  What's often overlooked, though, is the computer's ability to assist the writer in organizing his work.  No longer is it necessary to sift through reams of paper in search of a passage written months before and now misplaced.

Anyone who's ever used a computer (and who hasn't?) soon realizes that files and directories are no more than folders within folders.  As long as these are properly labeled, they can be easily cataloged and retrieved.  The trick is to set them up in a logical fashion before writing even a single word of the text.

The first thing I do is to create a folder for the entire novel and label it with that piece's working title.  It's not necessary to agonize over the title, though, as it can easily be changed at any time using the "Rename" feature.

Having done this, I then create several other folders within the first.  One will be entitled "Cover" and will contain the artwork and layout for the the book's cover when it is eventually published.  I use my own photography for this task and find it helpful to work on this aspect while at the same time writing the text.  (I intend to discuss the mechanics of designing a cover in a future post.)  Again, it's not necessary to fret unduly over the cover before one has even begun writing the work.  If a third party is to do the cover design, it's not needed at all.  The point is to have things set up so that they are readily available when one reaches the stage where they're needed.

Another folder I create within the first is entitled "Research."  While a novel does not require the exhaustive research needed for a scholarly textbook, it is still imperative to have one's facts straight.  This is especially true if a writer is setting parts of the story in an actual location, such as a NYC restaurant, or referencing within the novel real life events that have been reported in the media.  Into the Research folder I cut & paste news items, Wikipedia articles, descriptions given on travel websites, etc.  I never have so many that I have to trouble myself putting them in any sort of order.  I do, however, make sure to keep headlines in bold large-point type so I can locate them easily.

The third folder I create within the first I label "First Draft."  It is here I put the actual writing.  Before beginning, though, I start within this new folder a file entitled "Chapter Summary."  This is a standard Word table consisting of rows and columns.  I use one row for each chapter.  In a column on the far left, I put the date on which I began work on that particular chapter and which I also use as the file name; in the middle column, I write a brief summary (one or two sentences) describing what occurs in that section; in the column on the far right, I put the number of pages in each chapter.  I also include in the Summary a list of characters so that I can remember what name I've assigned to each.

It's only after all this has been done that I actually commence writing the first chapter.  I find that when I start out I usually have five or six "scenes" already imagined, and I devote one chapter to each.  Once these have been written out, it's fairly easy to come up with ideas for additional chapters.  I go on this way until the entire novel has been completed.  

It's important to create a new folder for each draft.  That way none of the chapters in the First Draft folder are overwritten.  I can always go back to them if I'm unhappy with the revisions I've made in the following draft. 

While all this is admittedly very basic, taking the time to organize one's writing day by day can save a tremendous amount of time once the editing process has begun.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Review: What We See When We Read

The attraction a book entitled What We See When We Read holds for any writer is immediately obvious.  If one understands exactly how a reader pictures characters and action while perusing a novel, one can then consciously write in a manner that gives the reader the clearest picture possible of what one is attempting to put down on paper.  It was with this thought in mind that I originally purchased the book.  I had not expected what I would actually be getting.

First, this is one of the best designed books I've ever encountered and is well worth acquiring for that reason alone.  This comes as no surprise as the author, Peter Mendelsund, is the associate art director of Alfred A. Knopf and perhaps the preeminent book cover designer active today.  If you've ever browsed through the recent releases at Barnes & Noble, you've almost certainly seen samples of his work.  He has, in fact, published another book, entitled simply Cover, that amply demonstrates his accomplishments in this field.  In WWSWWR he has created a veritable multimedia exhibit in support of his hypothesis that the act of reading is in essence nonlinear.  Filled with illustrations and outrageous typography, it fairly seduces the reader as it forces him to consider what is actually involved in the act of reading a book, an activity whose mechanics most take for granted since they've (hopefully) been doing it all their lives.  In furtherance of this end, the book is filled with any number of examples and pithy quotes (who doesn't love Wittgenstein?) that cannot but help stimulate the reader's imagination.  Instead of laying out a traditional argument, Mendelsund presents the reader with a gestalt in which to immerse himself.

I do have a couple of issues with the book though.

First, I do not believe the author fully takes into account the role which the writer plays in determining what the reader sees.  It only makes sense that the more clearly a writer is able to picture action and character in his own mind, the more easily the reader himself will be able to see those as he makes his way through that writer's book.  This faculty for imaginative visualization, independent of any writing ability, must necessarily vary from one author to the next.  Did Tolstoy have a clear picture of Anna Karenina in front of him when composing his novel, or did he vaguely see in his mind's eye only a pair of slender hands?  

Secondly, the author makes any number of assertions throughout WWSWWR but nowhere explains their bases.  For example, Mendelsund writes on page 347:
"I am a visual person (so I am told).  I am a book designer, and my livelihood depends not only on my visual acuity in general, but on my ability to recognize the visual cues and prompts in texts.  But when it comes to imagining characters, daffodils, lighthouses, or fog: I am as blind as the next person."
To me, this contention is counterintuitive.  If reading is truly a nonlinear - and, to an extent, nonverbal - experience, then a visual artist should have the capacity to read a book in a different manner than, say, a lawyer.  One would think he would bring to the text at hand a greater level of visual acuity than others and thus be able to more easily imagine character and action.  If Mendelsund holds to the contrary, on what does he base his conclusions?  As Leonardo once wrote: "The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions."  Not that I am expecting a scholarly argument replete with footnotes, but I do think the reader is entitled to know how the author arrived at the position he holds.  This is not to suggest that Mendelsund is incorrect in what he states, merely that he fails to properly substantiate his arguments.

In the end, I would recommend purchasing WWSWWR not as an aid to writing fiction but as a provocative and fun work that forces the reader to reexamine the act of reading itself and the extent to which he involves himself in it.  The book is far more interesting for its philosophical musings than it is useful for any practical application.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Final Draft of New York Sonata

I'm now in the process of writing the final draft of my novel New York Sonata.  As I had posted in June, I finished the first draft at the beginning of summer but then deliberately put it aside to give myself greater objectivity at such time as I reread it.  What's been most surprising to me as I've gone through the manuscript a second time is how little has changed in my conception of the story.  When working on an earlier novel, which I have since decided to leave unpublished, I found there were major revisions needed at every turn.  Here the main plot elements have remained stable and little has been required on my part other than adding detail to certain scenes in order to give them greater coherence.  The story itself has stayed pretty much as I first envisioned it.

After I've completed this final draft all that will really remain to be done will be to connect the chapters in a single document and then prepare from that a pdf to be submitted for copyright.  Happily, I'm still on schedule to publish the work as an ebook in early November.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Approaches to Writing #2: Starting Small

When I've been asked over the years for advice on how to become a better photographer, I've always suggested a straightforward method that can easily be practiced by anyone who's in earnest.  There's no secret to it.  One need simply shoot one roll of film a day for a month.  (On a digital camera, of course, the equivalent of one roll is 36 exposures.)  If one then makes a contact sheet after each day's session and carefully studies the photographs thus obtained before shooting the following day's roll, there will almost certainly be a noticeable improvement in the quality of the photos at the end of the 30-day period.  This is not a very difficult assignment and easily within the grasp of anyone who sincerely seeks to better his or her work.

The same is true of creative writing.  The most important thing is to do a small amount of writing every day and then carefully read over what one has written to see where improvements can be made before beginning again the next day.  The key here is the phrase "every day."  It's essential that one keep at it.  It's a mistake to believe one need sit down in front of a computer keyboard and churn out a 300 page novel in a single straight session.  Though Jack Kerouac may famously have typed On the Road in this manner on a single roll of mimeograph paper, most of those attempting to emulate his feat will only experience discouragement and give up long before reaching the end.

In an otherwise unhelpful writing guide, I once came across a basic piece of arithmetic: if one writes three pages per day, one will have completed a 270 page novel at the end of three months.  This is the rule I try to follow in my own work.  I put aside at least two hours each day, preferably at the same time in the afternoon, in which to write three pages as best I can.  After all, two hours a day is not a particularly burdensome commitment for anyone aspiring to become a professional or even an amateur writer.  And if I can complete more than three pages in the allotted time, so much the better.

What's required here is really self-discipline.  Unless one lives as a monk - and that's rather difficult to do in New York City - there will be days so hectic that it's difficult to find two hours to spare.  But it's essential that this be done.  The self-imposed assignment should be viewed as a part-time job that an employee need show up for every day and there perform his work as conscientiously as possible.  As one goes along, he will find that there are days in which he is inspired to continue working once the two hours after elapsed.  While this should be encouraged to a certain extent, at the same time one should be wary of burning oneself out by pushing beyond reasonable limits.

Needless to say, the 270 pages one is left with at the end of the three months will not constitute a final product.  There will be any amount of revisions and edits still needed before the work is completed and ready for publication.  Still, a 270 page manuscript should in most cases be sufficient for a first draft.  To me, the most difficult part of writing a novel is telling a story interesting and detailed enough that it can be sustained over the length of several hundred pages without losing the reader's interest.  Once this has been accomplished, the hardest part of the battle is over.

In summary, the more one works at given task the better one becomes at doing it.  Or, as the tired cliché puts it, practice makes perfect.  Becoming a better writer or a better photographer can seem a nebulous and difficult goal, but if one completes the work involved in small increments, there is much less chance of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the task at hand.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Another New Novel

I spent the summer months working on the first draft of another new novel.  This one is entitled Lucid.and deals with the phenomenon of "lucid dreaming" in which an individual is aware even while still asleep that he/she is dreaming and is thus able to gain control over the content of the dream and to direct its course.  In other words, the sleeping individual is actually awake within the dream itself.

I got the idea for all this from an article in a free daily newspaper through which I was skimming while eating my lunch one day this past spring.  The article was only a four-paragraph excerpt from a longer Reuters report but it was enough to get my imagination working.  What most appealed to me about the concept was the freedom it provided to me in telling a story.  Obviously, since dreams are expressions of the unconscious mind they do not have to "make sense" in the rational order that a writer recounting events would normally need to follow.  By the same token, there's no need for dreams to follow the laws of physics.  A character, while in a dream state, can therefore move freely through time and space without the need for an author to provide the tiresome textbook explanations that would be required if he were instead writing a science fiction novel.  In writing of dreams, lucid or otherwise, an author can give free rein to his imagination and indulge in fantasy to whatever extent he chooses.

In telling the story, I started off slowly by describing the parameters of the experiment in which the protagonist takes part in a deliberately dry and academic manner.  Even when the first anomalies are encountered, these are so ambiguous that they could really be only figments of the protagonist's imagination.  It is only as the novel progresses that the fantastic elements come to the fore and leave the everyday world behind.

The freedom I enjoyed in telling the story made this book highly enjoyable to write.  Hopefully, when I publish it sometime next year readers will have just as much fun following the characters through dream worlds where anything is possible.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Approaches to Writing #1: Finding an Idea

A little over two years ago, after years of procrastination, I finally began a serious attempt to become a novelist.  At the time, I had no idea where to start and found it rough going.  My progress was at best sporadic.  But I persevered and in January 2014 registered my first novel with the US Copyright Office.  I was unhappy with the work, though, and decided to withhold it from publication.  (I've already described the reasons for this decision in an earlier post.)  Instead, I immediately began working on a new novel and finished a first draft several months later.  Hopefully, I'll be self-publishing that new work, New York Sonata, as an ebook later this year.  Along the way, I've developed certain approaches to writing that have helped speed my workflow and make a difficult process a bit easier.  In this and coming posts I'm planning to describe these techniques in the hope that they may be of use to other fiction writers who are also just starting out.

My first consideration was to find an acceptable idea on which to base a full length novel.  This is not nearly so difficult a task as it might first appear.  There are actually viable ideas all around us just waiting to be discovered.  Every time we sign on to the web or pick up a newspaper, we are bombarded by stories and articles, many of them offbeat, that are perfect for adaptation into a work of fiction.  All that's necessary is to read an article that we personally find intriguing and then simply consider its implications.  If the story in question truly captures our imagination, we will almost always start thinking along the lines of "What if..."

For example, I got the idea for the novel Lucid, on which I'm now working, from reading a filler piece in one of those free New York dailies that are given away every morning on street corners.  The article itself only quoted the first four paragraphs of a much longer Reuters report on a science experiment that attempted to induce lucid dreaming by running an electric current through a subject's brain while he/she slept.  There wasn't a great deal of detail provided, but what was there was enough to start me thinking.  I began to wonder what the implications of such a procedure might entail and was soon picturing a similar experiment that in my imagination led to unforeseen results.  It was these unexpected consequences that became the subject matter of my novel.

Not all such ideas can be developed into a novel because some are simply too thin to support a story several hundred pages in length.  The trick is to find one whose implications are great enough that it can successfully be expanded into a novel.  Of course, it is not always necessary to think in terms of full length works.  An idea that is not strong enough to support a novel can always be developed into a short story.  A good example would be Nightfall by the renowned science fiction author Isaac Asimov.  This is a classic use of the "What if..." scenario.  In this case, Asimov explores the potential consequences that would follow if a population that had never before known total darkness (because the planet on which that population exists has several suns in its sky) were to experience nightfall for the first time.  The result was one of the classic science fiction stories of all time.  When, though, the author (together with Robert Silverberg) later attempted to expand his 1941 story into a novel with the same title, it was not nearly as good as the short story from which it was drawn.  That was because there wasn't enough material in the original idea, however imaginative, to support a work of greater length.

What's really needed then to develop the idea for a novel is first and foremost simply time to think, or perhaps more accurately, time to daydream.  An author has to let the idea for his work incubate in his imagination before ever writing the first paragraph.  Every story has implications of which the author may at first be unaware.  It is only after he has allowed his mind, consciously or unconsciously, to consider the possibilities that he will have a complete story to set down.  This is not to say, though, that the writer must have every detail worked out in advance before beginning to tell the story.  I have often found that as I am writing there will come to me additional details and incidents that need to be incorporated into the plot.  It's very important then that an author be openminded enough to adapt the story he is telling to new developments as they occur to him.  Otherwise he will be stuck with a story that, no matter how faithful to his original conception, fails to come alive and ends up being no more than an academic exercise.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Summer's Over - Back to Work

Now that summer has ended I'll once again be posting here - hopefully more often than in the past - as I prepare to publish my fist novel, New York Sonata.

It's difficult for a novelist to blog frequently about his work.  Writing is obviously a solitary pastime - there's not not a great deal to report as one sits in front of a monitor choosing the words that best tell a story.  There are other aspects of writing a novel, however, that can be described more fully.  These deal primarily with the mechanics of actually publishing an ebook online.  My intention is to initially offer my work on Amazon though, to be honest, I am not at the moment totally sure of all that is involved in doing so.  As I go through the process for the first time, I will be detailing the problems I encounter along the way and will be sharing any useful information that I happen to come across.  Once the work has actually been published, I will track the sales figures here as well as any other items of note.

In addition, I will be describing in future posts the approaches I myself have found most useful in the writing process.  When I first started working on this project, I found the concept of starting a novel from scratch to be rather daunting.  As I proceeded, I developed several strategies that allowed me to better order my workflow and to give greater coherence to the story under construction.  If any of these can be of use to other first time novelists, that will be gratifying in itself.

Finally, once the novel has been published, I will be looking into ways to best publicize it.  The sheer volume of available titles on Amazon makes it likely that even a work of quality will be overlooked if one is unable to draw attention to it.  Most authors, myself included, are simply not able to afford the cost of a publicist or marketing guru and must do the groundwork themselves.  I'll be looking into websites, such as Goodreads, that offer forums to writers and will be searching for any other means available, online or off, to help get the word out.

As far as my photography is concerned, I do not plan to actively pursue it while working on my writing.  Nevertheless, if I should become aware of any news that is of interest, particularly concerning analog photography, I will make note of it here.  I will also publish examples of my work in the unlikely event I happen to do any shoots in the coming months.

On a personal note, the summer months were a most productive time for me.  Rather than simply going on vacation, I took advantage of the fine weather here in NYC to complete the first draft of a new novel entitled Lucid.  I'm quite proud of the fact that in less than three months, I was able to write out an entire full-length story.  Once I finish work on the final draft of New York Sonata, I'll return to this new novel and prepare this work for publication as well.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Finished the First Draft of a New Novel

I completed yesterday the first draft of my new novel, New York Sonata, and have already set up a page for it on this blog as well as on my website.

The idea for the novel came to me last fall while attending a piano recital at Mannes.  The program featured only one work, the Concord Sonata by Charles Ives, an American composer whose musical ideas were so advanced that his work was rarely if ever performed during his own lifetime.  Before the performance began, the chair of the school's piano department gave a brief introduction to the composer and read selections from his Essays Before a Sonata.  One remark particularly caught my attention; that was to the effect that fame, when it finally came to Ives, came "too late."  As I listened to the sonata, I realized that this had necessarily been so.  Any artist whose work is fifty years ahead of his own time (and Ives was already independently experimenting at the turn of the twentieth century with such modernist concepts as polytonality, tone clusters and stereophony) always risks the possibility that his genius will remain unrecognized until long after his death.  I then conceived of writing a story in which a failed composer, now an old man scraping out a living as a piano teacher, is "discovered" and provided assistance by a young family member, himself a promising music student.  That idea formed the basis of the present story.

Now that I've finished writing the first draft of the complete novel, I intend to put it aside for the summer while I work on other projects and enjoy the warm weather.  As I have no editor or proofreader to assist me in my work, I think the lapse of several months will allow me to return to my writing with fresh eyes and facilitate the completion of a final draft.  I am then planning to publish the finished work as an ebook in the late autumn.  Although I realize it's rather unlikely that any literary first novel will become a bestseller, I am nevertheless hopeful that the book will serve as a showcase for my writing skills and will be read by at least a few individuals, particularly those with an interest in classical music.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Second Thoughts on a First Novel

In January, I finished the final draft of my first novel The City of Death and promptly submitted it to the Copyright Office.  My original intention had been to publish it as an ebook on Amazon towards the end of the year.

In reviewing the manuscript over the past few weeks, however, I've had second thoughts about it.  As I suppose any other writer does when writing a first novel, I had created characters that were composites of individuals I had known in real life.  Also, though the plot itself was completely invented, I had thrown into the story anecdotes from experiences I had had while living in New York City.  These were primarily incidents that had occurred in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side in the decades I've been located here.  My idea had been to use these as distractions to relieve the tension building in the main plot line itself.  

I feel I've been successful in what I set out to accomplish and have produced a novel that's well written and absorbing.  On the other hand, I now believe I've used too many episodes taken from the real world in what is after all meant to be an imagined reality.  Although I certainly don't have any dark secrets in my past, I'm as hesitant as anyone else to release information about my life onto the internet.  In addition, I now think a few of my friends and acquaintances might recognize something of themselves in the composite characters I've created and feel betrayed no matter how great pains I have taken to mask their true identities.  Beyond that, the world of drugs and graphic violence I have described in the novel and which is characteristic of the mystery/suspense genre is of course not part of my own milieu, and I would not want naïve readers mistaking fiction for fact.

For all these reasons, I've decided to hold off publishing my first novel indefinitely.  What I most probably will do will be to rewrite the book from scratch.  I still think my original idea - a noir murder mystery in which the victim is a black & white film photographer - is intriguing and worthy of exploration, but I also think it would be better served in a story that is told without using material from my own experience.  I intend to start on this project later this summer and eventually put the work online, complete with new title, after first having published my second novel, the first draft of which I only last month completed.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fomatone MG 542 Enlarging Paper

One of the very best enlarging papers I've used is Fomatone MG 542.  Several years ago, I bought a few boxes from Freestyle and found it worked very well for my needs in creating fine art prints that conveyed a pictorial look.  Unfortunately, when I went back to Freestyle to purchase additional stock, I was told it had been discontinued.  While a Foma FB paper has since reappeared on Freestyle's website, where it is currently shown as item 41784, I am not sure it is in fact the same since it is now described as double weight rather than triple weight and there is no mention of the distinctive "chamois" surface.  In this regard, the manufacturer's own (somewhat confusing) website distinguishes between 532 and 542 papers. In any event, it should here be emphatically noted that these "classic" papers differ from other Fomatone MG papers in that they use a baryta paper base rather than a resin coated base.  Those interested should obviously check with Freestyle before placing an order.  Foma itself enclosed a note with the paper that read:
"The delivery of Fomatone MG Classic... Fomatone MG 542 Chamois... or other varieties of this type of paper is a subject of an agreement with the manufacturer."
In the same flyer enclosed inside the box, the paper is described as follows:
"Fomatone MG is a variable-contrast paper working in a warm tone, specially designed for portrait photography and retro style works.  Its contrast can be varied in a large grade scale from extra soft up to ultra hard by using colour filters at exposure.  The paper is manufactured using a special silver chlorobromide emulsion that gives the silver image a brown-green to warm-brown tone that can further be influenced by the type of developer used.  The paper base involved is coloured in compliance with the developed silver.This accentuates [the] rich scale of warm halftones ranging from light cream up to saturated brown-to-green-black ones.  Regarding its low speed, the paper is designed primarily for contact work.  It can be, however, used as an enlargement paper as well."
Although I primarily used the paper to print fine art nudes shot on infrared film, I here used it to print portraits of the model Marta whose digital photos are shown in the preceding post.

Monday, January 20, 2014

New Blog Title

I've today changed the name of this blog to better reflect my current interests.  As I mentioned in my last post, I've recently finished the photography project on which I'd been engaged for many years.  Though I still have a deep interest in the medium and intend to keep working at it, it may be some time before I wholly commit to a new project that will occupy me as fully as the last.  While it's difficult to predict what the future holds, it may be that I will not again find inspiration until I've finally left New York and settled somewhere new.  For example, I could easily picture myself living in some foreign land and trying to capture its essence on black & white film.  I simply don't know.

In the meantime, I will continue to post articles about photography that I find of value.  Since my interests lie primarily with analog photography, however, these posts may be few and far between.  Hopefully, there will someday be a resurgence of interest in traditional processes that will provide me with new material on which to report.

On the other hand, I do intend to publish my first novel online in the fall of this year.  As the date of publication approaches, I am sure I will make new discoveries regarding the publication and marketing of ebooks that will be of general interest.  I will write about these developments as fully as possible.

I realize many readers who checked this blog primarily for information on photography gear and techniques will lose interest as its focus shifts to the writing and publishing.  I apologize for that in advance, but there's really nothing that can be done.  Like everyone else, I'm in a continual process of transition and my writing can only mirror the changes I experience.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

On Completing a Novel

To paraphrase a quote I once heard attributed to Sigmund Freud, "The only thing that truly gives us happiness is the realization of a childhood fantasy."

For as long as I can remember, my dream was always to write a novel.  When I was an English lit major in college, I read the fiction of Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Faulkner and aspired to one day place my own work beside theirs.  I felt that I had within myself the talent to create a novel that would be both readable and of true literary merit.

For years after graduation, I experienced what had to be the worst case of writer's block on record.   Whenever I tried to put a story on paper, I was stymied.  Everything I typed seemed self-conscious and derivative.  If I could not myself believe in the story I was writing - it always seemed false and contrived - how could I expect any reader to feel otherwise?  I know now that I'm not the only writer to have been filled with crippling self-doubt.  In her biography of Dashiell Hammett, Diane Johnson wrote:
"But ideas and words fled from his mind as soon as he sat down at the typewriter and were replaced by blank despair, and if he managed a paragraph or line, he suffered an almost compulsive destructive need to minimize, reduce, destroy it."
Eventually, seeking an outlet for my creativity, I turned to photography.  For years, I worked to master the intricacies of lighting and black & white printing in the darkroom.  I made use of whatever talent innate talent I possessed to achieve some degree of competence in creating fine arts imagery.  But I never gave up my dream of becoming a writer.

In May 2012, realizing that at my age it was now or never, I put aside all other projects and determined to persevere until I had at last succeeded in writing my novel.  Although it wasn't easy, I kept at it until I finally completed The City of Death.  The work went more smoothly than I had anticipated.  I finished a first draft a year later in May 2013 and then put it aside for the summer so that - lacking an editor - I could look at it with fresh eyes in September when beginning the second draft.  I finally completed work on that last week.  Whatever else may happen in the future, I have at least achieved a great sense of satisfaction in reaching a goal whose attainment for so long eluded me.

It's hard for me to be objective about the quality of my writing.  In this regard, I can only quote W. Somerset Maugham:
"No one writes as well as he would like to; he only writes as well as he can."
Although for various reasons I do not intend to put my novel on Amazon until November, I will be detailing my preparations in future blog posts.  Hopefully, some of the information I provide will be helpful to other novice authors attempting to publish and publicize a first novel.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Looking Forward to 2014

When I first began this blog in 2013 I had been anticipating that I would be posting a great deal about my photographic endeavors.  I began working as a photographer over 35 years ago and it's always been a great source of inspiration for me.  Though it never made me rich, it did provide me with a sense of purpose as well as artistic satisfaction.

In the past six months, however, I've found myself rethinking my interest in photography.  The aspect I always enjoyed most, i.e., working in the darkroom, has become increasingly more difficult as traditional film products and papers have been relentlessly discontinued.  Even working in digital has become problematic now that Adobe has put Photoshop on a subscription basis.  Beyond that, I've come to question the role of the photographer in a high tech world where just about everyone floods the internet on a daily basis with smartphone photos.

At the same time, I have finally found enough leisure in my own life to pursue my writing career.  I had gotten my degree in English lit and had always dreamed of writing a novel.  I did in fact finish my first novel - a noir murder mystery - at the end of last year and intend to publish it as an ebook in late 2014.  I already have an idea for my second novel and will soon begin writing it.

As far as this blog is concerned, there will be period over the next few months when I do not post very often while seeking to establish my new identity as a writer.  This lapse will be exacerbated by the fact that there is not very much interesting to say about the act of writing. It involves hours sitting in front of my computer as I type out words I hope will eventually form a coherent story.

I will post from time to time as I come across items relating to photography and self-publishing that I consider noteworthy.  How often these articles will appear I cannot now say, but my posts should become more frequent toward the end of the year as I approach the publication of my first novel.  Eventually, I will probably change the title of the blog itself to reflect the change in my interests.  I apologize to my readers in advance for however erratic and frustrating this approach may appear.