Meet Unko Sensei, the poop teacher making kanji fun for Japanese kids

Unko Sensei (literally Poop Teacher), is a charming mustachioed turd helping Japanese grade-schoolers learn over 1000 kanji characters required by the end of 6th grade. Read the rest

How to support a writer's career

Since the earliest days of my novel-writing career, readers have written to me to thank me for my books and to ask how they can best support me and other writers whose work they enjoy. Nearly 15 years later, I have a pretty comprehensive answer for them!

Forensic experts recover novel written by blind woman with a pen that had run out of ink

Trish Vickers of Dorset, England, decided to write a novel. Though blind, she preferred to work the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper, with her son dropping in weekly to type up the results. On one visit, though, she learned to her horror that her pen had ran out of ink fully 26 pages ago. But all was not lost!

Not knowing what else to do, she and Simon called the police. To the Vickers’s surprise, officers at Dorset HQ volunteered to work during their breaks and free time, hoping to use their forensic tools to help. And, five months later, the police reported back with success: they recovered the never-written words. Vickers told a local newspaper that the pen she used to write the pages — even though there was no ink left in it — left behind a series of indentations: “I think they used a combination of various lights at different angles to see if they could get the impression made by my pen.”

Vickers finished the book, Grannifer's Legacy, and died the day it was published. [via MeFi] Read the rest

Jane Morris explains improvisation and life

This video is an absolute gem! Jane Morris, one of the best improvisational actors alive, explains what makes the art so magical!

Jane has improvised, written, performed, and directed shows around the world. Beginning in Chicago, where she helped found the Second City ETC, later from her own theaters in Los Angeles, no one has done more to advance the art of improvisation.

If you are a writer looking for help getting unstuck, building a regular ritual of daily writing, or just help figuring out how to get the story out of your head and on to paper, Jane runs a wonderful writers workshop. If I was an Angeleno, I'd be there every week.

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John Scalzi on the ups and downs of book tours

John Scalzi's on tour with his new novel, The Collapsing Empire: he's posted a list of ten things every touring author knows, and very few other people ever get to see. Read the rest

Walkaway Q&A: great debut novels, collections, and favorites

With less than a week to go until the debut of Walkaway, my next novel for adults, Portland's Powell's Bookstore has run a long Q&A with me about the book, my writing habits, my favorite reads, and many other subjects. Read the rest

Screenwriters share the deranged comments they get from Hollywood people

At The Wrap, Oscar-nominated writers share some of the dumbest notes left by studio people on their scripts. They range from merely heavy-handed ("There is no wife. Continue.") to idiotic ("Where are the white people?" regarding Moonlight.)

Remarks hinting at someone's gender or race are striking: it's that familiar vicariously-bigoted voice: with Hollywood folk you can never quite tell if it's their voice, the voice of viewers they imagine and fear, or simply a voice they've heard and rehearsed so many times they don't even know anymore, and all they do know is that they have to listen to it.

But it's also true that many of the remarks aren't like that at all. They're just nuts, especially when they come from Kevin Costner. Read the rest

The Bureaucratic Style in American prose

After Colin Dickey wrote about United CEO Oscar Munoz's nonpology for the savage beating of Dr David Dao, he was taken to task for accusing the CEO of writing in the "passive voice."

The closer Dickey looked, the more he concluded that "passive voice" is not a good characterization of the style employed by corporate America; rather, the instantly recognizable "Bureaucratic Style" "makes use of both active and passive constructions, but its purpose is uniform: to erase and efface any active agent on the part of the bureaucracy."

Dickey's essay on Bureaucratic Style is fascinating.

To begin with, the bureaucratic style works to erase cause. Here is Munoz’s description of the start of the incident: “On Sunday, April 9, after United Express Flight 3411 was fully boarded, United’s gate agents were approached by crewmembers that were told they needed to board the flight.” Setting aside the passengers for a second, in this sentence there are two named actors: the gate agents and the crewmembers. You might expect, then, that this all started when the crewmembers approached the gate agents and told them they needed to board the flight. However, a closer reading of the syntax implies this is not the case; the crewmembers themselves “were told they needed to board the flight.” Who told them? The sentence does not make this clear, even though it is this unnamed actor, presumably a supervisor, who set this entire chain of events in motion. Deliberately pushed back as far off the stage as possible, there is no one here to responsibly hold accountable for subsequent events.

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A lovely leather pencil roll

Organize your pens and pencils rather than poke holes in your pockets! Read the rest

Why Breaking Bad grabbed you at the first episode

This episode of "Lessons from the Screenplay" analyzes how the Breaking Bad pilot set up the show to be so, er, addictive.

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I made my own ink for the apocalypse

Meg Elison is a high school dropout and a graduate of UC Berkeley. Her debut novel, The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, won the 2014 Philip K. Dick Award. Its companion, The Book of Etta, is now available. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes like she’s running out of time.

As an author of apocalyptic fiction, I get letters from all over the globe from people who are more prepared for the end of the world than the average individual. Many of them focus on the more popular aspects of prepping: growing and/or storing food, conserving water and even building their own cisterns, and weapons training and storage to be ready for the worst. When I first started writing in this subgenre, I thought about my own odds of survival in the worst sort of worlds. Nobody really survives nuclear war, so I didn’t build a bomb shelter. I’m not the fastest of my friends, so I hope to provide means of escape for them by being tasty zombie food. But those slow apocalypses allow for me to examine what my own role might be in another kind of world. The question is: would writers still write? Could I, if I had the time?

In my second book, it’s been a century since Bic and Parker and Pilot shut down. There are no new pens and ink isn’t as simple as one might think. In most cases, it’s a complicated combination of pigments, fixatives, and preservatives. Read the rest

My new writing setup

I'm one of those people who has trouble writing at length on my main machine, because of all the distractions it offers. Email and messaging and social networking: they all combine to form the "ludic loop" that Mark recently blogged about.

I've tried various things over the years to help keep me focused, from simple full-screen word processors such as WriteRoom and FocusWriter to gadgets like the Alphasmart and Freewrite. But apps are a tab away from fun, and glorified typewriters tend to expose their limitations in odd and frustrating ways.

After a lot of experimentation, I've arrived at a best-of-both-worlds option: proper apps running on a tiny old iMac from when Apple switched to Intel chips. It's modern enough to run good software, play music and hook up to useful services like Dropbox, but so old (and tiny) that there's not much else you can do on it except work. And it's immobile, too, so it creates a space just for that one task, which I think helps.

Even web browsing is just right: the older OS X 10.6-compatible version of Firefox it runs will access research resources well enough, but the media load on dangerously interesting sites (including Twitter and Facebook) renders them almost unusable.

There are dangers to this approach. If I were cunning I'm sure I could rebuild the ludic loop on this, by hitting the mobile versions of websites and exploring what other apps work on Snow Leopard. But its age (and adorable low-res 17" display) are so far dissuading me from trying. Read the rest

Isaac Asimov: How to never run out of ideas again

Wikipedia says Isaac Asimov wrote 506 published books. Where did he get his ideas? Charles Chu says Asimov used a number of tactics:

1. Never Stop Learning

“All this incredibly miscellaneous reading, the result of lack of guidance, left its indelible mark. My interest was aroused in twenty different directions and all those interests remained. I have written books on mythology, on the Bible, on Shakespeare, on history, on science, and so on.”

2. Don’t Fight the Stuck

"I don’t stare at blank sheets of paper. I don’t spend days and nights cudgeling a head that is empty of ideas. Instead, I simply leave the novel and go on to any of the dozen other projects that are on tap. I write an editorial, or an essay, or a short story, or work on one of my nonfiction books. By the time I’ve grown tired of these things, my mind has been able to do its proper work and fill up again. I return to my novel and find myself able to write easily once more."

3. Beware the Resistance

4. Lower Your Standards

5. Make MORE Stuff

6. “By thinking and thinking and thinking till I’m ready to kill myself."

Image: Wikipedia Read the rest

Rhymes from a high-schooler's machine learning system trained on Kanye lyrics

Robbie Barrat is president and founder of their high school computer science club; they created Rapper-Neural-Network, a free software project that uses machine learning trained on a corpus of 6,000 Kanye West lines to autogenerate new rap songs. Read the rest

Clarion Workshop now accepting applications for sf writers to learn with Lynda Barry, Nalo Hopkinson, CC Finlay...and me!

The instructors for this summer's Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy writers' workshop are Dan Chaon, Lynda Barry, Nalo Hopkinson, Andrea Hairston, Cory Doctorow, C.C. Finlay and Rae Carson: the workshop runs from Jun 25-Aug 5 at UCSD in La Jolla, California. Read the rest

The Abominable Mr Seabrook: a sympathetic biography of an unsympathetic, forgotten literary legend

William Seabrook was once one of America's foremost literary stars; now he is all but forgotten. Seabrook travelled the world, writing a series of (decreasingly sympathetic) accounts of indigenous people and their culture, outselling the literary giants he kept company with, and who pretended not to mind the women he paid to let him tie them up and keep around his home. In The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, graphic novelist Joe Ollman presents an unflinching look at Seabrook, his literary accomplishments and failures, his terrible self-destructiveness, and the awful spiral that took him from the heights of American letters to an ignominious suicide after his discharge from a psychiatric facility.

Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker's new Political Objects online anthology with Luc Sante, Lydia Millet, etc.

BB pal Rob Walker says:

My Significant Objects co-conspirator Joshua Glenn and I have started a new adventure: PROJECT:OBJECT will publish four “themed” volumes of stories-about-objects from an all-star cast of writers. Volume 1, POLITICAL OBJECTS launched today, with stories from Luc Sante, Lydia Millet, and Ben Greenman. This series will continue on HiLobrow through Q1 (with a bunch clustered around Inauguration Day.) Then a new volume with a new theme will launch in April, etc.

The POLITICAL OBJECTS stories are here.

And here’s the once-a-week email newsletter we’ll use to distribute links to new stories in the year ahead.

Read the rest

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