Gimlet Media

I’ve been listening to Start Up a podcast about Alex Blumberg’s efforts to start-up a business to make podcasts (a business he names Gimlet Media for reason revealed in one of the episodes).  Blumberg comes with a great NPR pedigree having worked for both This American Life and Planet Money.  Start Up is very revealing, particularly because Blumberg knows so little about what he’s doing that he asks the questions others might skip right on by.  I can’t recommend this enough — it’s great story.

It is also reminding me of issues comics and the web went through, are still going through and still haven’t completely nailed.  Blumberg is getting investors in his company based on a valuation of 10 million.  Is anything in webcomics content valued at 10 million?  Should something be?

More

Writing a Novel

So NaNoWriMo is coming up in November.  Is it NaNo-RYE-Mo or NaNo-RHEE-Mo?  I’ve always said “rye” myself.  I have started and flailed several efforts at cranking out a horrible first novel so why not try again?  I’m “cheating” in the sense that I’m starting now and will probably not finish in November but maybe cranking out a couple 1000 words or so every week will get me a novella by the end of the year.  I think that’s almost realistic if I don’t fall prey to my usual predators of insecurity, doubt and failing to meet my own standards of taste.

Anyhow there is a category on the site called “novel” which eventually I’ll figure out how to set up a way to just read that category.

More

Novel in Progress: Week 1

ku-bigpic

From Here To There

There is a particularly dull aspect to life as an adult where all of the rough edges are rounded off through self-imposed peer pressure.  Tentative steps at negotiating a path between your own impulses and inner life with the unstated expectations of the very serious adults around you turn into heavier and heavier footsteps on a road.  Days turn into months turn into years and that road feels like a six lane highway with sound proofing walls running along the side and no off-ramps in sight for miles.

And you may ask yourself; well, …how did I get here?

John James hung onto the metal pole as the Metro train slid smoothly onwards from the station.  The retrofit of the Metro system to a maglev system was expensive, but made the ride smoother and a little bit faster.  After the upgrade the cars had fewer seats in them — sitting wasn’t healthy for an able-bodied adult anyhow — and a lot more ads.  Visually the walls of the car were a bit of a mess with figures jumping back and forth in a cynical effort to manipulate your peripheral vision.  It took some energy to focus. John remembered his Uncle Ray who used to complain about just about everything in the world, including advertisers increasing dominion over the environment.  Ray seemed to really enjoy winding himself up over how awful it was that t-shirts went from simple plain unadorned pieces of clothing to billboards with logos, slogans and brands.

The Metro came into the station downtown.  Somehow, despite turning over their operations to computers, the trains still managed to jerk him back and forth as they stopped, just like in the days when humans were still involved.  John bumped into the woman standing next to him.  He muttered an apology. Both of them had headphones on anyhow, he thought. He checked his bag, compulsively moving the already shut zippers together along the seam.  He felt inside the bag for the thin, rectangular slab that was his laptop computer.  He moved with the crowd out of the train onto the platform, weaving through people towards his station exit.

It was a bland, grey Fall day outside and he half-heartedly wished he had brought an umbrella.  On the other hand he was never too precious about his off-the-rack work clothes.  They never seemed to last as long as they should anyhow.  There was just enough mist in the air to make it uncomfortable and John tried ducking between overhangs and canopies as he walked onwards.  As he approached the office building where he worked, he went through his morning enter-the-building checklist.  Electronic devices in his bag, lanyard and pass cards around his neck.  He unconsciously rubbed his hands together.  He usually skipped the main entrance with the array of guards and went in the back door for staff.  He held his building pass card up to the black box mounted by the door, waiting for the yellow light to turn green. As it did he waited to hear the slight click made by the door as the lock disengaged and he went inside the small entry room.  From there was another door to pass through.  John walked up to it, put his fingers on a small ledge by the door and his eye up to another box mounted at eye level.  There was a beep when the internal security system had received the scan of both John’s fingerprints and iris. And then the inner door clicked as well and John went in.

Upstairs at his desk, John put his right index finger on a small glowing piece of glass on his computer.  After a second the computer screen woke up and John typed in a password.  He had a cubicle  with five other employees in a large, ornately detailed room in what was a very old, and very important building.  It wasn’t ideal but you got used to it.

John pulled up his email and quickly sorted out the fifty or so unread items in his inbox.  Email was cumbersome in many ways but the agency he worked for was extremely conservative in its approach to technology and the Internet so there were countless tools that they were officially prohibited from using on their work system.  He opened the document he had left off working on the night before.  John looked at it again and sighed. He was just not ready this morning for another day of serious, dry and analytical writing.  Assessing and filtering the almost infinite amount of information available on every topic John needed to cover in the scope of his job was just exhausting.  Exhausting to the point where John was sure that if he was allowed to access better tools he might radically change how he would approach the job.  But as it was, you had to dig in there, relying almost entirely on your own brain to make sense of it and create something useful out of the ocean of data.

He figured he would spend some time looking for new information; that was in some ways the easiest part of the job since there was always more information you could assess.  He pulled up regional reports in his email; quickly scrolling through them, looking for items of interest to his current projects.  A lot of similar material to what he had found over the last week which was comforting but not particularly useful to getting his brain unstuck on the actual task of finishing his own work.

“Huh,” John thought as he stumbled on a new story in an email summary of updates from China.

More

The Magicians Trilogy

Image by  Jillian Nickel
Image by Jillian Nickel

Lev Grossman has written three Magicians books about Quentin Coldwater, Brakebills Academy and the magical land of Narnia Fillory. (By the way you can buy a print of the image above here)  The first novel, The Magicians, took familiar tropes from a whole river of fantasy literature and invested in them a seriousness of emotion and consequence that was quite cathartic for me.  In particular, the book plays with C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books which was an intense favorite of my childhood.  I am almost the same age at Lev and the way the Narnia books fired my imagination and my yearning for escape must have also been a profound influence on him.  His notion to revisit them in the guise of a novel grounded in… well at least emotional realism if not actual realism, is nothing short of brilliant.

The second book, The Magician King, was also quite good and took up sorting out what it would mean to be the Kings and Queens of Narnia Fillory.  I just finished the third book, The Magician’s Land, which has an amazing beginning section which is almost Ocean’s Eleven-like in it’s depiction of a magically-powered heist.  Neither sequel quite hit the punch of the first novel for me but they both were very good and I really did enjoy the conclusion of the third novel which I think captured the right moment to exit the stage on.  (I am not writing a review here — just another one of my bookmark posts to myself.  There are whole sections of the three novels that are complicated and on which I have read eagerly others’ criticisms and analysis.  In particular, there are some pretty solid and serious essays on how women are depicted in the novels vis a vis Quentin that absolutely are worth reading.  Needless to say like all works of art, these are imperfect — no matter how much I found them worth reading.)

The author put together a collage of famous (to me anyhow) people reading part of the first chapter as a trailer for The Magician’s Land:

This interview where Lev talks about his influences is pretty interesting.  I’m glad he acknowledges the titanic impact Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell had on him.  Susanna Clarke’s novel of magicians in England at the dawn of the nineteenth century is an incredibly realistic depiction of magic, fairies and fantasy.  Which is not the contradiction it sounds like — Clarke invests her characters with a full range of emotions, crafts legends and rules for her magical version of Earth that make magic darker, deeper and terrifying.

I also liked this article in Slate about the trilogy with it’s argument that the books are actually about Julia and her painful story (it’s also about how hard it is to successfully write trilogies).

More

SPX 2014

I made it to SPX today and it was a good floor full of interesting people and a wide range of comics. I caught up with a couple of people briefly although I had a longer conversation with Clay Yount (and was happy to see he is still making comics after the end of Rob & Elliott).  Walking the floor I saw a lot of faces and names I recognized but a lot more I didn’t.

I have no skin in the comics game anymore though — I am not making comics, I am not really writing reviews or other stories on comics (let’s say, very sporadically).  I’m at best a fan and not a particularly good one at keeping up my favorites these past few years.  Still I have cash and a credit card so that’s something.

I’m glad I made it out today.

More