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.