Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Binding stories

For the last couple of years, I've taken part in National Novel Writing Month. I signed up again this year, and decided I'd try something a little different. In addition to generating 50,000 words of text over the course of November, I'd change up my habits a little, using some new writing software. Specifically, I decided to give Liquid Story Binder a try instead of trusty WordPerfect.

LSB isn't a standard-issue word processor; it's really a variety of things, allowing you to enter text in a range of formats to help you outline and organise a long multi-part work. There are text editors that you use to write "chapters" as well as "notes"; you can also create "dossiers" and "outlines", which format information in ways that might be useful as you work on the structure of your story, as well as "journals" which link info to specific days, and "mindmaps" which create a kind of virtual pin-board on which you can move brief notes around to help you get a visual sense of how ideas link up. You can use the program to set up a playlist of mp3s, or establish a gallery of images related to your story. And so on.

The program does so much, in fact, that it can be difficult to get your head around. It's possible to look at all these features and wonder what it all has to do with actual writing. Certainly I found it difficult at first re-imagining my working process to take advantage of LSB's features, but over the past couple of weeks I've come to find the program really helpful; I suspect the novel I'm working on has gained a level of complexity it might not have had otherwise. Or, more precisely, I've reached that level of complexity with a certain ease that I might not have got with a word processor.

A word processor is by its nature linear; you're basically entering text on the screen as though the screen were a sheet of paper. Liquid Story Binder takes more advantage of the properties of a computer. On one level, that means that you can change the colour scheme of the program to match the tone of your work. More profoundly, though, it makes it easy to have multiple applications -- or sub-applications, in this case -- open at once. So you can work on a chapter, have three notes open while you do, and have an outline next to the chapter which tells you where the chapter fits in to the overall framework. And you can have a visual reference in the background to help you along. The program seems designed for the current generation of rectangular monitors, taking advantage of all that horizontal space to have multiple stuff going on at once.

Crucially, having these multiple formats and multiple windows seems to make it easier for me to visualise what I'm doing. It's easier for me to make connections between parts of the book. It's easier for me to see how it builds, how the parts interrelate to the whole, and I what have in mind for each of those parts as individual pieces.

Now, up this point, I've actually just been working on the story's outline. Which is a bit of an issue in terms of NaNoWriMo, in that I now have to write 50,000 words over the next dozen days or so. We'll see how Liquid Story Binder does with that; I haven't yet tried out its actual text-entry aspect yet. That's where word processors shine, obviously, and we'll see if LSB can match the ease and flexibility of WordStar. That said, I like what it does so far, and like the way it helps me think about structuring fictions. I'm going to seriously consider buying the program when the free demo expires.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Book Sale

Last week the Friends of the Westmount Library had their autumn "Quality Book Sale". I picked up a bunch of stuff:

Stephen Baxter / Deep Future
Michael Chabon / Gentlemen of the Road
John Clare / The Wood is Sweet
Candas Jane Dorsey / Black Wine
J.P. Eckermann, translated by Gisela c O'Brien, selected and edited by Hans Kohn / Conversations with Goethe
Lev Grossman / Codex
Kathryn Lindskoog / The C.S. Lewis Hoax
Iris Murdoch / Under the Net
Patrick Rothfuss / The Name of the Wind
Dan Simmons / Darwin's Blade
Alfred Lord Tennyson / Poetical Works

So that's 11 books for $15. Not bad, and some very exciting titles in there. The Tennyson is intended as a gift, so that's 10 new books added to the apartment. Interesting to me to note that between this sale and the spring sale put on by the same people, I end up with 22 books, 21 to be read, while the McGill book fair this year gave me 35 books, 26 to be read. So these Westmount sales are kind of catching up to the McGill sale, if only for me personally. Fewer older books to be found at the Westmount sales, though, and generally less idiosyncratic and not as varied as the McGill fair; but the prices at the McGill sale this year were actually slightly higher than in the past, so the Westmount sales actually have the edge there.

The main concern for the Friends of the Westmount Library has to be the amount of space they have to work with, though. There just isn't anywhere near enough space in their current configuration, given the number of books available. It's one thing to have boxes of books under the tables, even boxes on top of boxes, but when the books fill the boxes such that they can't be easily examined, as far as I'm concerned you risk losing a sale. Still, between the Library and Victoria Hall, there are probably answers to these problems. We'll see what happens in future.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Readings 2K9: October summation, and the McGill Book Fair

So, the final tally for me from this year’s McGill Book Fair is as follows:

The Cloud of Unknowing
Woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer
M.H. Abrams / Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature
John Aubrey / Brief Lives
Iain Banks / The Business
Richard Harris Barham / The Ingoldsby Legends
Max Brooks / The Zombie Survival Guide
Edward Bulwer Lord Lytton / The Coming Race
Italo Calvino, translated by William Weaver / Mr. Palomar
G.K. Chesteron / The Man Who Was Thursday
Charles Dickens (with plates by Cruikshank, selected by J.B. Priestly from Sketches by Boz) / Scenes of London Life
Nalo Hopkinson / Midnight Robber
Ellic Howe / Urania’s Children: The Strange World of the Astrologers
Sam J. Lundwall / Science Fiction: An Illustrated History
The Works of John Milton
Iris Murdoch / Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues
Iris Murdoch / The Book and the Brotherhood
Iris Murdoch / Bruno’s Dream
Iris Murdoch / The Green Knight
Iris Murdoch / The Message to the Planet
Miyamoto Musashi, translated by Nihon Services Corporation / The Book of Five Rings
David Pringle / Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels
Apollonios Rhodios, translated by Peter Green / The Argonautika
The Complete Short Stories of Saki
Robert Silverberg (editor) / New Dimensions 1
Carl E. Schorske / Fin-De-Siècle Vienna: Politics and Culture
Leon Surette and Demetres P. Tryphonopoulos, editors / Literary Modernism and the Occult Tradition
John Timbs / Abbeys, Castles, and Ancient Halls of England & Wales: Their Legendary Lore and Popular History
Janet Todd / The Secret Life of Aphra Behn
Edward John Trelawny / Records of Shelley, Byron, and the Author
J.F. Webb and D.H. Farmer, translators / The Age of Bede
H.G. Wells / Meanwhile and The King Who Was a King
Ronald Wright / A Scientific Romance

Oh yeah, and in a moment of nostalgia I also grabbed a couple of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks:

Ian Livingstone / City of Thieves
Keith Martin / Vault of the Vampire

So that’s 35 books for a total of $70.50. Not bad, really. Still, it was a slow year. The Milton I bought just as a replacement copy for another edition I own which is falling apart from years of use; the Banks was a mistake, as I already own a copy (anybody want it?); and I also already owned a copy of the Chesterton, part of a massive anthology, and bought this edition for the convenience of having the book in a stand-alone volume.

As a contrast, last year I bought 66 books (including gamebooks, graphic novels, reference works, and so on) for $141. Now, I’m not complaining about my haul this year; but the fact is I only bought half of what I did in 2008. Deduct the three books I mentioned above from the total, deduct another four books I’m planning to give as gifts, and ignoring the gamebooks — I end up with 26 books to be read added to the apartment. Which is a more manageable number than I’d been expecting.

I will say that there seemed on the whole to be less interesting older material at the fair this year— the John Timbs book is an example of the sort of thing I mean. An obscure hundred-year-old-plus book (this looks like a first printing, which would put it at 1872), with an odd subject. There’s a curiosity factor to volumes like that, and in other years I’d find several such, but not this time. Then again, I went to the fair hoping to pick up some books by Iris Murdoch — a major influence on A.S. Byatt, I grew curious about her after reading all that Byatt a few months ago — and that certainly worked out. Plus I found some books I'd been curious about for a while, notably the Bulwer-Lytton.

Fun as always, then, but not one of the great Book Fair years for me. That does mean, though, that I have a shot at ending the year having actually made a dent in my books-to-be-read pile, despite only completing one book in October. I added one book to the apartment besides the books I bought at the fair, as well (so 27 added, 1 read, 26 down for the month). Overall: 102 books read, 13 fewer unread books in the apartment on the year. Not bad.

Of course, next Saturday is another book fair at the Westmount Library ...

[This post was edited because I managed to miss the Trelawny in the first version of the list I posted.]