Introducing a New Oui Love Books Title!

The following post was posted on Facebook today by an unknown page manager (me):

Mary Cassatt captured human relationships like few other artists in history. Her work is the subject of Oui Love Books’ next title, “L’Amour de Cassatt / Cassatt’s Love” (release date TBD). Here’s the cover as a teaser!

This news is real! Get excited.
Here’s the cover:
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I Dream of Excel

I’m guessing that when runners get too sore, they know it’s time to wind things down. Same goes for guitarists whose hands turn to callus-central, or singers whose voices stay back at the hotel room for shows. What’s the equivalent for a work-from-home type like me? I used to think it was one’s chair giving out from too much use, but, as of last Thursday, there’s a new contender: using Microsoft Excel in a dream.

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Not a real photo from my dream.

I can’t remember the details. All I know is that while I lay in bed on Wednesday night, recovering from a day of hard spreadsheet-related labor, I saw in my slumber the green, gray, and white atrocity that is Microsoft Excel. Was I doing accounting work? Inventory? Calculating a vehicle loan? I’m not sure. All I know is that it needs to stop.

Dreams are supposed to be pure and natural, or at the very least, free from productivity software developed in the 90’s. So, please, Microsoft, stay out of my dreams. If you agree to do that, I’ll stop using Google Sheets for my collaborative spreadsheets. And you don’t want me to make the permanent switch, because there’s no coming back.

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Another artistic representation of my dream. T-shirt prints coming soon.

I’ve decided to go from working 12 hours a day to working 8 hours a day, at least for the rest of this week. Or, maybe not. All I know is that if the Excel nightmare comes back, I’m going to have to take a long, hard look at how often I’m using my computer.

On Starting Things and Not Finishing Them

Before you scroll to the bottom, no, this blog post won’t end mid-sentence. This is not one of the things that I start and then not finish.

But that happens a lot. I get a “great idea”, I get excited about said “great idea”, and boom, next thing you know, I’m staying up all night working on this awesome project. Come morning, I don’t even want to look at my computer screen because the thing that I was just working on seven hours ago is just awful. Or, at least, it’s awful in my head.

My hard drives are full of folders that might as well read “Unfinished Project October 2017” or “What Was I Thinking March 2015”. It’s that bad. In fact, it’s a good thing that folders don’t use up a lot of memory, because if they did, I’d be investing in one of those big rooms full of computers that they have in the movies. Something like this:

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Lots of computer.

I wonder, though, if that “great idea” period is a good sign. If I didn’t think, “wow, this book will be the Thriller of books”, maybe I wouldn’t open up Word in the first place. Regardless, a hangover is a hangover, and I feel like crap when I crash from a new-project-trip.

On the other hand, maybe trashing a project is what’s best for the two of you. If I never let go of my half-baked projects, how could I ever begin the ones that are actually worth something? I couldn’t. So, new InDesign file that I just opened up, you must know that if you never turn into a real book, it’s not you, it’s me.

💔

Broken heart emoji goes here.

The End. See? I told you I would finish! I never said it would be a “good” finish, or a “satisfying conclusion”, but here it is. Goodnight and good luck.

 

Introducing Odéon Livre

I am proud to introduce my publishing company, Odéon Livre. Odéon mainly publishes French-language texts, with the exception of a series of English-to-French bilingual books.

Odéon Logo

How Odéon came to be is a story I’ll share in posts to come. For now, I have to get back to typesetting. InDesign is open on Sundays, which is nice.

 

No Offense: Why I Abstain From Harmful Satire

My first novel is set in the American South. The land– and their people– have been chided, tickled, and cackled at for centuries. We’ve seen parodies from SNL, Comedy Central, and countless other sources. So when writing my book, which aspires to be funny, I was faced with a common issue known to all comedians: if it’s been done thousands of times before, it can’t be funny.

Go ahead, laugh.
Go ahead, laugh.

Jokes need to be novel (no pun intended), and when they’re predictable or derivative, the audience will not only sigh but in all likelihood shut down completely. Someone with enough talent and intelligence could probably come up with a joke so clever that others would fail in comparison. I, unfortunately, am not up to that task.

So I decided to keep the satire to a minimum. When I do throw punches, I’m trying to take an ethical stance: one or two comments revolve around the culinary experience in the South, which in the author’s opinion needs to be given a makeover.

But I had another objection to full-on ridicule; if I were too harsh, I’d likely offend a reader or two who happened to identify with Southern culture.

And yes, Jerry Seinfeld*, I dislike offending my audience. Many writers like to condescend to their readership, asserting their power through cynicism and deadpan. I’m naturally inclined to do that, being a cynical and deadpan jerk. But I avoid it in my writing.

I have an unwritten mission statement. It answers the question, what do I want to be as a writerI won’t share it all with you– after all, it is unwritten– but I will say this: my goal is to entertain.

Many of my favorite artists in film, video games, and music bring nothing but joy. Take for instance, The Beatles. The boys spent a decade chanting about “love” and “peace,” concepts so abstract and corny that most of us tire of hearing them by college.

But what they did was magical. Never has a group been more fun or more appealing. They had– and still have– fervent fans all around the world. Why? Because they made lovely music, and just as importantly, they never pretended to be more than what they were: a pop group. That is, the best pop group.

On the other hand, a lot of my writerly influences tend to be jerks. That’s fine, but it’s not for me. Reading should be fun. You never know what mood or state a reader could be in. They could need a book in an existential sense. I know I have.

Books need downturns and moments of sorrow. That’s what makes a story compelling. But when it comes to harming a reader– even for art’s sake– you can count me out.

*Jerry probably won’t read this. I understand.

The Cycle of Doom

I, like many writers, have a routine. A good day consists of typing around one-thousand words. More is fantastic, and a little less is acceptable. Most of the time, I reach this goal– and when I do, it will likely happen the next day, and the next, and so on…

…Until the streak ends. I only get a hundred words in, or worse, I’m shut out entirely. What follows is a morning of pain and lamentation. If I only focused more… If I only put down the Wii remote an hour earlier… If only, if only… 

Woe is me!

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So what do we do when our productivity goes flat?

There’s a recently-retired baseball player, Jason Giambi, who was known for wearing golden panties when trying to break up a hitting slump. Many of his counterparts, both past and present, have similar routines. In the real world, we call these “superstitions”. In the “let’s-be-real” world, such actions are seen as silly at best.

I won’t recommend the thong method. Instead, let’s think about it from a cognitive-behavioral perspective (assuming, of course, that our brains are behind getting work done and not a supernatural being).

Progress is good. Not-progress is bad. That means we should reward ourselves when we write and punish ourselves when we don’t. Right?

Dig deeper. Punishment– when not totally sadistic– is meant to change a negative behavior and make one more likely to do better in the future. Thus, we criticize ourselves when we don’t get writing done in hopes of doing better the next day. It’s a temporary negative that will lead to a later good.

But what if that doesn’t work? What if banging our heads against the wall today (metaphorically, of course) makes us less likely to get work done tomorrow?

When I’m in a slump– continuing the baseball analogy– I spend a lot of time thinking about how badly I’ll feel if I fail. These negative thoughts loom over my head, making each moment spent not working seem awful. When I do write, the pain is lifted, but rarely do I reward myself.

So. What if we don’t place a value on our productivity? Knowing that punishment doesn’t work, it seems that self-scolding is the worst option available. Not only will you feel worse at that moment, but your performance will suffer in the long run. You’ll fail, then punish, then fail, then punish… it’s an endless spiral, a Cycle of Doom.

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The other option is to accept being human. We mess up. We neglect our work, sometimes for weeks or months. You might think that without critiquing yourself, you’ll become lazy. Disinterested. Unmotivated.

But we’re creative people. We’re already motivated. There’s a kicking in our gut telling us to work, work, work. Its strength varies from to time, but it’s there.

Acknowledge the down days. Breathe in, breathe out. Tell yourself it’ll be alright.

It will be alright.

Being Don Quixote: The Challenge of Setting Goals

Don Quixote thought he could be a knight. I thought I could read Don Quixote in Spanish.

Both of us were wrong, but I’m pretty sure the former’s story will have more staying power.

For those unfamiliar, Don Quijote de la Mancha is a novel by Miguel de Cervantes. It follows a man who adopts the identity of Don Quixote, a gallant caballero bent on saving his village from evil-doers. Sometimes these threats are totally fabricated– existing only in the protagonist’s mind– but when facing real danger, the untrained and incompetent Quixote is toast.

Donquixote

Quijote was written in 1605– not too long ago!– in Cervantes’ native tongue. This summer, I took on the task of reading the novel in its original language without any help. I would have context, having heard many lectures on the story. Plus, I was a talented language student for most of my secondary education. I have five years of studying Spanish under my belt– so what could go wrong?

That’s right. Mostly everything.

It was rough– real rough.. Such a challenge, in fact, that I gave up within minutes. Who would have guessed that a native English speaker without any experience conversing in Spanish would be unable to read a 400-year-old document in a foreign language? Anyone but Don Safronje.


“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
— Norman Vincent Peale

“Land among the stars?” That sounds so tragic. Floating in silence forever and ever… dying without saying goodbye to your family… that’s just horrific.

Yes, I understand that it’s a metaphor. But think about it– setting a high goal for oneself, and then missing said goal, is not always a positive thing.

Operation Don didn’t get past lift-off. The repercussions? A growing disinterest in Spanish, for one. At the beginning of the summer, I’d watch Univision– subtitles at the ready– in hopes of sponging up the language. Now, any attempt to become semi-fluent seems pointless.

This is completely irrational. I know. The entire premise was unreasonable, and what followed was a downward spiral of nincompoopery. But even the lightest of slip-ups can have profound effects. At least, in this author’s experience.

My experiment’s failure has bled over into other endeavors. Whenever I try to read a “hard” book, a little voice in the back of my head tells me that I can’t do it. If I really were a man of letters, the voice says to me, I would have been able to read Don Quixote. I ask the voice if that’s a realistic way of thinking. The voice tells me that it’s just repeating what I myself thought a few months ago. Then I have a glass of water.


What about more substantive things? Y’know, things with consequences beyond feeling a little bad?

This brings me back to my teenage years.

I went to an extremely competitive high school. Going to college, which for many Americans would be an accomplishment in and of itself, was not a big deal. In fact, going to a sub-par school was grounds for banishment. Getting into, say, a top-fifty school like UIUC, was an acceptable fate. Other so-called Big Ten schools were fine as well.

Elite schools– the Ivies and such– were the most desired. But these universities are not just elite but exclusive, very exclusive. Receiving an acceptance letter from one of these is nearly impossible. Nonetheless, the brightest still pursue it.

And what does this do to people? For some, it’s a good thing. The competition is similar to what they’ll face later in life, in Silicon Valley or Wall Street (or the Blogosphere?) For others, those not cut out for it, it’s disastrous.

If one shoots for Harvard and comes close to making it, the backup plan will be great. At least in an outsider’s mind. Competitive people such as myself are unable to accept second or third place, even if silver or bronze mean a four-year trip to the East Coast. But the type of person who plans on going to Harvard is the same creature that will feel eaten inside when having to settle for Cornell.

And some who do make it suffer while there… and some who succeed there suffer in grad-school or in their field of choice…

Shooting for the moon is a death wish. Those who hold themselves to high standards will always be pushing up, no matter what. And the universe, having natural laws, will eventually stop them.

So the answer, of course, is to drop out of high school, never read again, stay locked in our houses– no. Of course that’s not what we should do.

The answer, I guess, is moderation. Maybe I should have read Spanish and English translations side-by-side. Maybe I should have spent this summer sharpening my Spanish instead of diving headfirst into a classic novel.

I don’t know if my tilting at windmills will end up being helpful in the long run. It’s hard to say. For now, though, I’ll keep on trekking.

Everybody Plays the Fool, But Which Kind?

A fool, according to The American Heritage Dictionary:

1. One who is deficient in judgment, sense, or understanding.

6. One who subverts convention or orthodoxy or varies from social conformity in order to reveal spiritual or moral truth.

This summer, I treated myself to several of BBC’s filmed productions of Shakespeare plays, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night.  I’ve chosen to look at these two today as they show a unique pattern in the world of Shakespeare. There are foolish fools (1), and then, paradoxically, there are wise fools (6).

The fool in Midsummer, Nick Bottom, clearly falls under the first definition of the above entry. Bottom– as his name suggests– is churlish, vulgar, and fond of drink. Plus, he gets turned into a donkey.

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We’re supposed to laugh at Nick and his misfortune. Why? Because he’s schadenfreudelicious.*

On the other side lies Feste, a lute-playing jester in Twelfth Night. Feste, who is just known as “Fool” in certain editions, often acts the playwright’s surrogate. He, like similar characters in other plays, almost exists outside of the play’s action. Feste is less of a player and more of a commentator, using bon mots in the middle of scenes and songs during transitions.

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Below is an example of Feste’s wit, in the form of a song called “O Mistress Mine”¹:

What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter.
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty.
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

Macabre? Yes. But it’s apt, and of course, a clear reflection of the author’s beliefs. We’re beautiful now, but a time will come when we’re… less beautiful. We better get our lovin’ in while we can, right?

Bottom is dense and Feste is clever. Two comic characters who have little in common other than their ability to entertain.

On second thought, they wouldn’t be so well known if they were just sources of entertainment. Feste’s wit and charm make him much more than a simpleton. Bottom is complex in that he has desires– love, success– but can’t achieve them due to being born unlucky. Isn’t that, in a sense, a little tragic?


The Bottom-Feste dichotomy doesn’t stop in the world of the Bard. Nor does it end in Elizabethan theatre, or stage art itself. Modern comedies include characters similar to both Bottom and Feste.

More on that another day– I don’t want to mar an article about Shakespeare with talk of “movies” and “popular culture.” That is for the proles!

In all seriousness, one of my passions is taking comedy, which is often seen as an inexplicable act, and trying to find what makes it work. I’m excited– and unsurprised– that a trope so common today was also popular four centuries ago. Stay tuned.

¹ Second verse.
*The adjectival form in German is actually Schadenfreudig.

Why Read?

I’ve noticed a trend among people my age: they don’t read for fun.

This is a problem, but not because other media– movies, TV, video games– are inferior. It’s an issue because those who neglect to read miss out on an art form with both practical and aesthetic benefits.

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What reading is like, maybe.

I’ve come up with a few points for a non-reader to consider. These aren’t perfect, and they certainly aren’t empirical. I present them not as a treatise but as a way to begin a “conversation” on how we can get young people– not just primary school students, but college kids as well– to fall in love with literature.


First, a concession: reading is work.

Most of us are lucky enough to understand basic sentences without effort. Reading a book, fiction or non-fiction, is much harder. One paragraph, not to mention a page, contains a number of images and details that the reader must process and store away for later recall. This is a challenge.

Long-time and passionate readers have gotten so used to this operation that it becomes instinctive.

With practice, this can be you. But why do it in the first place?

Obviously, reading leads to better writing. Equally obvious is the importance of writing in the workplace, school, and in life in general.

Good (or at least stylistic) writing is as much about rhythm and sound as it is conveying ideas. By reading the best and brightest authors, you can see what styles work best and from that work to emulate it on your own.

But what about talking? Being able to write a perfect sentence is a good skill, yes, but the average person will spend more time in social situations than typing on a computer.

Thus, having a knack for talking is a must. If you struggle with public speaking, there are coaches, classes, and clubs that can help. But they can only do so much.

Reading is the best way to sit down with a trusted word worker and study their craft. Being exposed to a great writer’s voice– whether somber, vulgar, or crazy– can change your outlook on language and make discourse a little easier.

If you spend more time watching MTV than reading books, your speech will likely suffer. The level of discourse on most TV shows, including the news, is… well, low. I imagine even the silliest of airport novels has a higher vocab level than an American TV program.

Sure, quoting Timon of Athens in a boardroom won’t help your reputation too much. But going through the mind-tickling machine that is a Shakespeare play will exercise your talking muscles.

It’s Fun!

I can’t force you to like literature. No one can. Nor can I explain to you why reading is fun. Pleasure is subjective. But… I’d like to show that books entertain in different ways from film and television.

The fact that reading takes effort is a major turn-off for some. But that critique can be turned into a point of praise if you look at it from a different perspective.

An author is the creator of a book– this we know. But the creator only does part of the work. The writer starts the process, but you, dear reader, finish the book with your own brain.

This, I believe, explains the old “the book was better than the movie” phenomenon. A reader “sees” a novel in the same way a viewer “sees” a movie. Of course, when you watch a film, you’re strapped to a chair and forced to see what the director has decided to show you.

Not to mention that a character’s thoughts, the lifeblood of many great novels, can’t be displayed or spoken on screen. Well, they technically can, but filmmakers and fans in general don’t like that. Film, of course, is a visual medium.

The Prescription

“Now Ethan,” you say, “you’ve somehow convinced me to read more despite your flimsy arguments and straw man attacks.”

Um… thanks?

“How do I start?”

Good question.

The first step is to find the right time. Or rather, the right time frame. Promising yourself to read at 8:30 every night is not a good idea. Saying that you’ll read after dinner, or before bed, or on the train… that’s a good idea.

“Print or eBook?”

Well, that’s up to you. At home, I use my iPad. On the road, I read on my phone. I hear some people still like the smelly paper things they sell in stores. That’s fine, too.

“And… are audiobooks fine?”

Sure, why not.


I was once like you. Each day in high school, I had the same after-class routine. I’d plop myself on the couch and play Madden (or Mario) until it was time to go to sleep. I only read two or three non-assigned books when I was an upperclassman.

Soon, when it was time to go to college, I got tired of that. My brain was fried, and more importantly, I felt that I was missing out an entire world of cool stories.

I eased my way into reading more. First it was non-fiction audiobooks. Then it was recordings of classic novels like Huck Finn and Lolita. Then, finally, I got the courage– and energy– to put a book in my hands.

Just do it. Go on Amazon (or to a brick and mortar store) and buy a book. Sit down and enjoy. This sounds like a command– and I guess it kind of is– but if you have the right mindset, being told not to read would be punitive.