Writer’s Cramp is the blog and site for B. Jenne’ Hall, writer, genius, and pathological optimist. She’s written her first book, is working on her second, and she’s trying to get published. Which from all accounts seems to be as approximately attainable as the gift of flight, but who doesn’t love a challenge?

Entries in headdesk-ery (4)


It's that time of year again!

Next week is Banned Books Week, in which we celebrate books that have been challenged, restricted, or banned by moralizing busybodies and narrow-minded idealogues who think it’s their job to dictate what everyone else can and can’t read, believe, and think.

This year is the 30th anniversary of BBW. It is to weep that we even have to have this discussion at all, nevermind that we have been celebrating BBW for 30 years. This beautiful timeline highlights the books featured each year during BBW, including the typical objections to that particular book. It includes the usual suspects — The Color Purple, Catcher In the Rye, The Satanic Verses — and others that boggle. (In the Night Kitchen…really? Really?? And don’t even get me started on To Kill A Mockingbird being on that list.) And it’s an insight into how much further we have left to go in tolerance, open-mindedness, and enlightenment before we can call ourselves a civilized society.

So strike a blow against censorship and read a book next week. Even better: read a banned book.


Judging a book by its cover

The old adage about books and their covers is sage advice when it comes to people or houses or pretty much anything, even books. But wise or not, if we didn’t actually judge books by their covers, the book industry wouldn’t spend a signficant amount of time and treasure trying to concoct the perfect alchemy of design, subject, and layout that will get a potential buyer to actually pick that book off the shelf.

For all that time and treasure, you’d think there were extensive marketing studies to determine what sells and what doesn’t. You’d think that, but you’d be wrong. Every book that makes it as far as a bookstore shelf already faces ridiculous odds actually being sold, so it’s truly mystifying that publishers don’t work harder to help themselves when it comes to the cover art. This recommendation is particularly brilliant, especially since it comes with the authority of someone who has that firsthand experience with book selling.

So here’s what I propose to help save yourselves money: create a group of power-indie handsellers, folks with years of experience who know their business cold and excel at recommending books to readers.

I mean, right? It seems so obvious, yet the idea of consulting the people who actually, you know, sell books is apparently a revolutionary thought in the publishing biz. Which means that for every cover that entices us to pick up a book, there are dozens more that are utterly forgettable in their sameness. Or worse, make us cringe. What gives, publishers? Sure, a good design takes some work, and the design that has that something special can be as elusive as a winning lottery ticket, but surely some missteps are avoidable?

Science fiction and fantasy are some of the worst culprits, by the way. I love sff almost as much as I love my cats, but the cover art for a fair majority of books in this genre seems to wallow in a special hell of awful. I’m not even talking about the pulpy-type of covers, which have a so-bad-it’s-good kind of appeal, but the kind of covers that scream, “I’m a socially-challenged teenage boy who spends way too much time playing WoW and making design schematics of ships on Star Trek.” (Or worse, the kind that scream, “CLEARLY I HAVE BEEN EXPERIMENTING WITH HALLUCINOGENICS SOMEONE TAKE AWAY MY AIR BRUSH.”)

There isn’t anything wrong with socially-challenged teenage boys, of course, nor playing WoW or being a huge Star Trek fan. But not everyone who reads sff falls in the center of that Venn diagram. For me personally, covers with ridiculously muscled men, scantily-clad women, and oddly stylized backgrounds of space ships, futuristic cities, mythological creatures, and alien landscapes, or any combination thereof, are more likely to induce a “DO NOT WANT” than an “Ooooh shiny!”. If a book cover makes a reader embarrassed to read it on a bus, then there’s something seriously broken in the art department.


If it's on the internet, you will be found out

If you’ve missed the copyright follies kerfuffle that blew up a few days ago, the basic facts of the case are these:

  1. an author is alerted by a friend that an article she wrote some time back about medieval apple pie recipes had appeared in a magazine called Cook’s Source;
  2. author had never heard of the magazine, nor authorized the article to be used;
  3. investigates and discovers her article was lifted almost wholesale and reprinted (without permission or payment);
  4. contacts the editor for (very humble) redress…
  5. and gets the most jaw-dropping response basically ever.
  6. Including be told she should be grateful that the editor stole her words and used them without permission. I am totally not kidding. You really need to read the editor’s email for yourself to get the full effect of unintentional hilarity.

I’ve been following this saga for a couple of days now and I’m still gobsmacked by the idiocy on display. I especially love the lecturing, finger-shaking tone of the so-called editor’s reply to the author. What cheek! Not to mention her “editing” of recipes that used their medieval spellings, since that time period was, you know, the point of the article she stole them from. Nevermind the whole “anything on the internet is public domain” headdeskery. (Oh yes, the editor really said that.) Holy ignorance of copyright, Batman!

So I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that this isn’t some rogue editor who’s off the reservation — this magazine has been lifting articles right and left from pretty much the entire internet and publishing it all as their own content. And they shot for the moon, too — Food Network, Martha Stewart, Disney…. Whooo boy. Clearly someone has never heard of corporate lawyers and the scariness thereof.

They’re getting the High Holy Hammer of all Smackdowns, though. Thanks to Neil GaimanSmart Bitches, Trashy Books, Boing Boing, Reddit, and Gawker, the can of worms they opened up for themselves is going to eat them alive. Seriously, when there’s a Facebook page dedicated to listing all the entities you’ve plagiarized from, and the entire internet has gleefully piled on? Life as you know it is over, Red Rover.

What kills me about this whole thing is how completely people still underestimate the power of the internet. The operators of this magazine have obviously been getting away with this unethical behavior for years, but it takes hubris the size of Everest to think you can get away with such shenanigans indefinitely when it’s all online. And then to have such a jaw dropping response from the magazine’s editor…surely they weren’t surprised when basically the entire internet said OH HELL NO in reply. I mean in the age of Twitter, who can possibly still think that something like this won’t explode faster than you can say “Iranian election protests”?


I am so smart, I am so smart, s-m-r-t...


No, really. I have been writing on this here blog for more than six months now, posting away and telling myself not to focus on the lack of comments. “It takes time to build an audience,” I tell myself, in my most mature and reasonable voice. “Blogs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and anyway hello! People have lives. Don’t be such a self-centered, neurotic git.” As one does.

Fast forward to today. My mom mentioned on the phone to the Chef today that she’d left me comments, but that they weren’t showing up because they hadn’t been approved yet by the webmistress. She just wanted me to know she’d been reading.

Turns out, even though I’d set all the settings to notify me for various and sundry, the setting I failed to adjust was email notifications of comments pending. So all this time, I’ve been thinking no one’s commenting, and thus wondering if anyone’s even reading, and it turns out…you are!

So I have now gone back and read all of your lovely comments (going back to the “official” launch date on February 8th!) — and APPROVED THEM omgwhatthehell — and teared up at your collective wonderfulness that you have taken the time to read and provide feedback, and to just have that lovely glow of, “They like me! They really like me!” I will reply back to each and every one, even if you decide not to go back through and read, and henceforth I will reply to comments, as well as check and double-triple-octuple check that I am aware of all comments awaiting approval.

In other news: I am a dumbass, news at eleven.