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 miscellany (16)


Pretty much this

Imagination doesn’t just mean making things up. It means thinking things through, solving them, or hoping to do so, and being just distant enough to be able to laugh at things that are normally painful. Head teachers would call this escapism, but they would be entirely wrong. I would call fantasy the most serious, and the most useful, branch of writing there is. And this is why I don’t, and never would, write Real Books.

— Dianna Wynne Jones




The Art of the Book Cover

It’s ironic that a book’s success can hinge so critically on its cover, that a textual medium is so dependent on the visual. Not only does an author need to write an amazing story and refine it to a shiny polish, and successfully navigate the path from final draft to publishing (in whatever form). But that author needs a cover that helps its chances at success. (Or at the very least, doesn’t hurt it. Which is surprisingly harder than you’d think.) Ideally, that author will get a cover that helps a whole lot. And very, very rarely, that author will get a cover so iconic that it spawns imitators for years. (Which isn’t to say that an iconic cover equates to a superb book. Obviously.)

A book cover needs to entice you, the reader, to pick it up, to give it a look, to consider it, to buy it, and most importantly to want to read it. A hefty task, especially in the crowded market not just of books vying for our attention, but in the crowded market of entertainment, period. Unless there are other sources encouraging you to choose that book — a recommendation from a friend, a review that intrigued you, a building buzz that puts it on your radar — chances are, the first impression you get from the cover decides that split section reaction: “Huh. I wonder what this is about?”

So, how, exactly, does a book cover accomplish all of that?

Chip Kidd recently gave a TED Talk about the art and philosophy of the book cover. Not just the cover, but the design of the book itself. He talks about several books he’s done covers for, sharing the evolution of thought behind the designs and how they encapsulate a story visually. And how a book’s cover can become as iconic as the book it covers.


post image credit: by Lienhard Schulz (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons


What a piece of work is man!

I can’t settle on a favorite — I love them all.

I started following the mystery of the paper sculptures created from books that started appearing in Edinburgh a few months ago, and they immediately sparked my creative fires, stoked to an extra brightness by curiosity. Who was leaving these hidden treasures? No one knew, no one saw them being carried in or put into place. How? How was this possible?

Aren’t they wonderful? I love this kind of guerilla creativity! Crafting something so amazing and delightful just for the sake of it is what the art of creation is all about, and it’s a desire I think we all have, to share something of ourselves with the world. Such important reminders that even though humanity can sometimes be a scourge, we may not be past redemption.

According to the update at the end of the post, the local paper claims to know the identity of the artist behind this whimsical mystery. But I’m with those who say they’d rather not know. That’s part of the charm, isn’t it? We need more mystery and delight in our daily lives.


This is how it starts

On my way to meet coworkers for lunch today, I drove past a wheelchair that appeared to be chained to a stop sign. I did a double-take: yep, definitely chained, to a stop sign, with a padlock and everything.

The wheelchair itself was empty, and there was no one else around, but there were well-used chair pads and stickers and bags hanging from the handle. Signs that it was someone’s primary location during the waking hours of the day.

The whole drive to the restaurant, I wondered about it. Where was the wheelchair’s occupant? Were they wheelchair-bound but not paralyzed? Had they gotten up out of the chair and walked away? And if they did, why? Why there, at that stop sign marking a low-traffic intersection, with the wheelchair parked on the edge of a high curb? If they didn’t, had someone carried them? Had they gone willingly? Had they been kidnapped? Carted off in an ambulance? And why the chain? Presumably so it wouldn’t be stolen, but why leave it there in the first place?

It occurred to me how someone who’s paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair truly is confined, without any need for walls or bars or anything. I mean, we spend millions and millions of dollars trying to keep people confined to a building with cement block walls and miles of razor wire-topped fences, but for someone whose only means of mobility is a wheelchair, it would take nothing more than a bike chain and padlock to doom them.

A snippet of a short story started to stir. A dark and gothic sort of story, one that would end with the main character, a man paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, chained to a post and left to die. He wouldn’t even have to be a criminal…. Perhaps he had crossed paths with a psychopath, one who didn’t go in for all that gruesome stabbing or strangling nonsense but still felt an urge to kill. Or he was a gambler who got in too deep, and since there was no point in kneecapping him, his bookie’s hired thugs got the easiest enforcement gig they’d ever been assigned. Maybe he was a mafia informant and someone ratted him out to the mob boss. Or maybe he was an eccentric millionaire in a big mansion with no relatives and a staff that he bullied relentlessly, and one day, his butler just had his fill of all the abuse.

Perhaps it wouldn’t have to be such a dark tale. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy, and had some family, but they were gold-digging layabouts and anxious to get their hands on his fortune. In that tale, maybe the story starts with him in his wheelchair, chained to a pole (or a tree? a fence? a broken down car, for a bit of ironic symbolism?), and it’s all about how he managed to save himself, and what he went through to survive.

Welcome to my brain. It’s scary in here.


Don't quit your day job

Life intruded, and has meant a longer spell away from updates than intended. It’s meant a backlog of interesting articles I’ve wanted to link, and snippety writing sorts of things to post, and blogging on My Thoughts On Matters Of Writerly Import.

“Life”, in this case, being largely my day job. It’s a good job, but a demanding one, and leaves precious little time for everything else I might want or need to do. And writing, like other artistic careers, means it’s likely to be your second job*, which means it takes a backseat to the demands of your primary job. Hence the dearth of posting….

All writers struggle with that balance, of course. Encouragingly, even many of the greats still had day jobs that kept the power on and food on the table. From the aforementioned backlog:

Vonnegut Sold Saabs: 11 Author Day Jobs

(One thing about being a writer: even your day job can be rich fodder for a story, often in surprising ways. Even though I write epic fantasy, my own jobs have provided plenty. Frequently in the form of despicable characters that can be killed off in satisfyingly gruesome ways. Kidding! I kid. No, seriously.)


*Not just for financial reasons — many writers who earn enough to live off of keep their day jobs so they’ll have insurance, especially if they have children. But you know, universal health care = socialism ooga booga, and so we’ll continue with the worst-of-all-worlds system we currently have.

Never mind that we live in a society that prizes wealth and the making of it so highly that even those who are obscenely wealthy through no skill or talent of their own other than simply their accident of birth are lauded and emulated instead of derided as the shiftless layabouts they are. Meanwhile, teachers pay for school supplies with their own money while working in schools that are crumbling down around them, libraries are considered an unnecessary luxury, and the schmoes who actually do the vast majority of the work in society are asked to work ever harder lest they lose what little security they have.

So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me in the least that artistic expression — that spark of divinity, of immortality, of the potential to transcend into something far more than this mass of cells and fluids and atoms and electric impulses — is something we’re told should be a hobby, at best. It’s not practical, produces nothing of use, contributes nothing of real value.

In my imaginary world, schools are castles, teaching is one of the most prestigous careers you can aspire to, libraries are considered as fundamental to modern society as electricity, and artists don’t have to choose between their need to create and their need to eat.

Thus concludes my Unsolicited Rant For The Day.


Rules vs. Immutable Laws of the Universe

I’m coming around to the single space after periods and colons. I’ve been persuaded that ending a sentence in a preposition won’t immediately result in a hail of fire and brimstone. I split infinitives with abandon. I can hardly restrain myself from using an em dash for parenthetical asides in every sentence I write. No matter how many dictionaries correct me, I will always spell it “judgement”.

But they will pry the Oxford Comma out of my cold, dead hand.


Plot Device

You don’t have to be a writer to adore this. Be sure to watch all the way through the credits to the end.


Plot Device from Red Giant on Vimeo.


Delivery is everything

More research for Book 2 as I push through another difficult section. Lots to learn, lots of tiny decisions to make that will make or break the conclusion I want, so that it’s like trying to navigate a maze blindfolded.

But in researching The Battle of Carrhae, I learned about the Parthian Shot, which I am delighted to now know.

The Parthian Shot was an archery maneuver performed on horseback by the Parthians (who lived in part of what is now Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan), wherein the archer, at a full gallop, turned his body back to shoot behind him at the pursuing enemy (usually as part of a faked retreat, to lure the enemy into a flanking trap). You may remember that scene in The Two Towers, when the Rohirrim raid the Uruk-hai camp in the middle of the night (when Merry and Pippin make their escape into Fanghorn Forest)…there’s a scene where one of the Rohirrim raiders gallops by, turning and firing on an Uruk behind him as he gallops past. (One of the coolest scenes in the movie, IMO.)

It takes considerable skill to perform this maneuver, both as a horse rider and an archer, as you would expect. The horse must be guided strictly by the thighs, since both hands are otherwise occupied, and of course you must be able to sight and shoot from a very unnatural position while in motion, very quickly. When the Parthians perfected this maneuver, they did it without the benefit of saddles or stirrups, as neither had yet been invented.

The “Parthian Shot” also became a metaphor for delivery of an insult as the speaker departs:

    “With which Parthian shot he walked away, leaving the two rivals open-mouthed behind him.”
    —Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (1886)

We know it now as the “parting shot”.


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”?


Random Friday

I have links! Of writerly sorts of topics!

  • April Henry posted earlier this week about a really fun and fascinating project called The Novel Live! in which 36 NW authors take turns writing an entire novel in six days, a kind of marathon-relay-writing adventure. It’s wrapping up tomorrow, but you can still catch the live stream of the project in action. Like, actually watch the writer in action AND simultaneously see the words s/he is writing appear on the screen AND chat with the writer to offer suggestions, comments, etc. (LIVING IN THE FUTURE OMG STILL THE BESTEST). This has to be one of the cleverest things I’ve seen in awhile, and it’s a fundraiser for a good cause, as well.
  • How Can One Afford To Be A Writer? (Spoiler: You can’t. Do it anyway.)
  • Okay, this one isn’t really writerly, but I just love it so much I’m posting it everywhere like a crazy person. The God of Cake, from one of my favorite blogs, Hyperbole and a Half. Just…go, click and read it. I promise, you will love me for making you.