Categories: books, writing

books out, smelly candles in

I just spoke with someone in the publishing business about the discouraging state of Canadian fiction. Not the writing, but the business side. I’m not sure what has happened in the rest of the world, but: Chapters/Indigo has reduced space for books from 70% to 60%. The rest is candles and calendars and crap of one kind or another. And what they cut was mostly fiction – anything literary, and especially anything new from “unproved” writers, has much less shelf space. There are precious few independent booksellers left in Canada, so as Chapters/Indigo goes, so goes Canadian publishing.

The result is that publishers aren’t taking many new writers. The big presses have kicked out their smaller performers; who are now getting picked up by the mid-range presses, meaning that mid-range presses aren’t taking new young writers any more, and small presses are swamped with manuscripts from both published and unpublished writers…with nowhere to sell their books.

All of which makes me think that something is badly broken in the publishing business. People still want to write; people still want to read. But there’s little room left in the mainstream book business for anything but top sellers. And smelly candles, of course.

The book business needs a shake-up, I think.

Categories: writing

things that are nice …

1. finishing novels
2. a fine scotch to celebrate finishing novels

Categories: art, technology, writing

semantic randomness

DadaDodo works rather differently than Dissociated Press; whereas Dissociated Press (which, incidentally, refers to itself as a “travesty generator”) simply grabs segments of the body of text and shuffles them, DadaDodo tries to work on a larger scale: it scans bodies of text, and builds a probability tree expressing how frequently word B tends to occur after word A, and various other statistics; then it generates sentences based on those probabilities.

The theory here is that, with a large enough corpus, the generated sentences will tend to be grammatically correct, but semantically random: exterminate all rational thought.


wikipedia & feathered dinosaurs

In the fall of 2004, I quit my job consulting in the renewable energy industry in order to focus on writing. In addition to fiction-writing, I worked on a research/writing contract to develop an exhibit on dinosaurs (part of which is still online) for the Canadian Museum of Nature.

I’d never used Wikipedia much before, but I used it frequently on that project as a starting point for research. It was an excellent resource (to be backed up with others, of course), and since it was so useful, I thought I should contribute. I got hooked.

So it’s nice to see, three-and-a-half years later, that the article on feathered dinosaurs, for which I was the second editor, still contains a pretty good summary, I think, that I wrote about the history of these peculiar fossils:

Shortly after the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, British biologist and evolution-defender Thomas Henry Huxley proposed that birds were descendants of dinosaurs. He cited skeletal similarities, particularly among some saurischian dinosaurs, fossils of the ‘first bird’ Archaeopteryx and modern birds. In 1868 he published On the Animals which are Most Nearly Intermediate between Birds and Reptiles, making the case. The leading dinosaur expert of the time, Richard Owen, disagreed, claiming Archaeopteryx as the first bird outside dinosaur lineage. For the next century, claims that birds were dinosaur descendants faded, with more popular bird-ancestry hypotheses including ‘crocodylomorph’ and ‘thecodont’ ancestors, rather than dinosaurs or other archosaurs.

In 1964, John Ostrom described Deinonychus antirrhopus, a theropod whose skeletal resemblance to birds seemed unmistakable. Ostrom has since become a leading proponent of the theory that birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs. Further comparisons of bird and dinosaur skeletons, as well as cladistic analysis strengthened the case for the link, particularly for a branch of theropods called maniraptors. Skeletal similarities include the neck, the pubis, the wrists (semi-lunate carpal), the ‘arms’ and pectoral girdle, the shoulder blade, the clavicle and the breast bone. In all, over a hundred distinct anatomical features are shared by birds and theropod dinosaurs.

Other researchers drew on these shared features and other aspects of dinosaur biology and began to suggest that at least some theropod dinosaurs were feathered. The first restoration of a feathered dinosaur was Sarah Landry’s depiction of a feathered “Syntarsus” (now renamed Megapnosaurus or considered a synonym of Coelophysis), in Robert T. Bakker’s 1975 publication Dinosaur Renaissance.[2] Gregory S. Paul was probably the first paleoartist to depict maniraptoran dinosaurs with feathers and protofeathers, starting in the late 1980s.

By the 1990s, most paleontologists considered birds to be surviving dinosaurs and referred to ‘non-avian dinosaurs’ (those that went extinct), to distinguish them from birds (aves or avian dinosaurs). Direct evidence to support the theory was missing, however. Some mainstream ornithologists, including Smithsonian Institution curator Storrs L. Olson, disputed the links, citing the lack of fossil evidence for feathered dinosaurs.

Fossil evidence

After a century of hypotheses without hard evidence, particularly well-preserved (and legitimate) fossils of feathered dinosaurs were discovered during the 1990s and 2000s. The fossils were preserved in a Lagerstätte — a sedimentary deposit exhibiting remarkable richness and completeness in its fossils — in Liaoning, China. The area had repeatedly been smothered in volcanic ash produced by eruptions in Inner Mongolia 124 million years ago, during the Early Cretaceous Period. The fine-grained ash preserved the living organisms that it buried in fine detail. The area was teeming with life, with millions of leaves and the oldest known angiosperms, insects, fish, frogs, salamanders, mammals, turtles, lizards and crocodilians discovered to date.

The most important discoveries at Liaoning have been a host of feathered dinosaur fossils, with a steady stream of new finds filling in the picture of the dinosaur-bird connection and adding more to theories of the evolutionary development of feathers and flight.

To improve the article, head on over to wikipedia. Kinda nice to know that for 95% (50%? 80%?) of the young, English-speaking, students of paleontology in the world, it’s my text that might first introduce them to feathered dinosaurs.

Categories: web, writing

events tonight: electro-lit & design 20×20

Busy night tonight.

First, pal Nora Young, of CBC’s Spark, will be at the Blue Met, hosting a panel, 7pm at DELTA CENTRE-VILLE – RÉGENCE A:

OUT OF THE BOX: ADVENTURES IN ELECTRONIC LITERATURESince the computer was invented, writers have been using it to forge new literary forms. From the early days of hypertext fiction to the latest in narrative gaming, these authors write beyond the book and way outside the box. – Hosted by Nora Young.

J. R. Carpenter
Jason E. Lewis
Jeff Parker
Alice Van Der Klei

Next, impresario Boris, will be presiding over the 5th installment of Pecha-Kucha Montreal, 8pm at SAT:

What is Pecha Kucha Night?

Pecha Kucha Night, devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham (Klein Dytham architecture), was conceived in 2003 as a place for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public.

Each presenter is allowed 20 images, each shown for 20 seconds each – giving 6 minutes 40 seconds of fame before the next presenter is up. This keeps presentations concise, the interest level up, and gives more people the chance to show.

Categories: writing

worst spam “business op” email

Come on, Steve, you can do better than this. This is pathetic. There is NON WAY I would get involved in business with you.

Dear Friend,

How are you today and business in your country?
I am Barr. Steven Douglas, of the Steven Douglas legal chambers, Newcastle, United kingdom

I have a business proposal that will be of immense benefit to the both of us.

If you are interested, you can contact me through My private

In replying kindly state the following:

Your full names:

Barr. Steven Douglas

Categories: writing

wikihistory woes

As you probably know, I’ve been spending a lot of time on the WikiHistory project. In fact, I probably shouldn’t be writing it here (thanks to IATT Bulletin 1251, the draconian “don’t blog it” policy I opposed and still oppose, but I’m not an Admin, so who’s going to listen to me?). Anyway, I’ll go back tomorrow and erase the whole thing – lest I get another one of those passive-aggressive PMs from you-know-who. But in the mean time, this is for the benefit of those of my readers who are participating in the project anyway, just a rant, really, but with a bit of a “funny” ending. The whole Hitler thing blew up again on the forum (yawn!), but AsianAvenger, who’s a bit of a hot-head, but a pretty good guy usually got it in his head that the Hitler thing was “racist” and wanted to prove it by testing the “no assassinating” policy on some Chinese emperor. Anyway … check the forum to see what happened.

LOL … I’m gonna leave it for a day or two, see if any of the nervous nelly Admins sort it out. Which I bet they won’t, in which case I’ll be off to China soon. Wish me luck.


[thanks Kara!]

scientists vs. publishers vs. wikipedia

From the New Scientist:

Scientists who want to describe their work on Wikipedia should not be forced to give up the kudos of a respected journal. So says a group of physicists who are going head-to-head with a publisher because it will not allow them to post parts of their work to the online encyclopaedia, blogs and other forums.


Leaving aside the problem that posting about your own work on Wikipedia, violates two policies (no original research, and don’t edit articles about yourself or your work) … this is an interesting showdown.

Open Access journals, free and open to web linking, is the way science publishing has to go, for the same reasons NYTimes can’t keep its articles behind registration walls. Value is increasingly defined by network authority (is there an agreed term for this, or can I claim coinage of “network authority”?), aka google juice; and if you are out of the network, you are out of the authority. Scientists realize this – hence the desire to get their stuff on Wikipedia … Journals realize that it chips into their control of information, which it does. But like all other businesses, fighting it won’t make it go away, and the sooner they rejig their business models, the better.

Which opens the question: with the web as publishing platform, is there really a need to have academic journals running as businesses? Or is there a better way?

Categories: art, writing

novelist strike

from the onion:

LOS ANGELES—The Novelists Guild of America strike, now entering its fourth month, has had no impact on the nation at all, sources reported Tuesday.

The strike, which scholars say could be the longest since 1951, when American novelists may or may not have voluntarily committed to a six-month work stoppage, has brought an immediate halt to all new novels, novellas, and novelettes from coast to coast, affecting no one.

ha. great.

[via Matt]

Categories: technology, writing

i hate this

1. someone sends me an email.

2. i respond

3. i get this:

I apologize for this automatic reply to your email.

To control spam, I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand.

If you would like to be added to my list of approved senders, please fill out the short request form (see link below). Once I approve you, I will receive your original message in my inbox. You do not need to resend your message. I apologize for this one-time inconvenience.

Click the link below to fill out the request:

To which the only response I can think involves a loud, vocal swear word and some unkind thoughts.